More on the One Idea Approach

After attending Edward Tufte’s course recently, I had a realization with regard to one idea being better than three. The success of the “one idea”? approach was not due to the fact that we only presented one idea, but rather due to the overwhelming evidence that led to the idea.

The hidden benefit to presenting one idea is that it puts you in a position to more thoroughly validate your idea, and, if it holds up, provide the appropriate evidence to support that idea.

The Importance of Evidence and Research

The hidden benefit to presenting one idea is that it puts you in a position to more thoroughly validate your idea, and, if it holds up, provide the appropriate evidence to support that idea. If you aren’t going to do this extra legwork and expose your reasoning to your client, then one idea will not hold up to scrutiny.

It’s About Responsibility

This approach is rooted in the idea that as consultants, it is our responsibility to make certain decisions for our clients. It is not a matter of doing less work or making more money. It is purely a matter of fulfilling an obligation to the client that will help them achieve the best results. They are paying for you to understand their business and make the correct decisions. Forcing them to make the more difficult decisions between several choices is not fulfilling that obligation.

Nothing is Absolute

Naturally, some clients will want the choices. You can’t avoid those situations unless you choose not to work with those clients, and that is a whole other discussion. The idea behind all of this is that it really is our responsibility to make informed decisions and help guide clients rather than just throw out half-baked ideas and make clients carry those ideas across the finish line.

Without a deep understanding of your client, their goals, and their business, you can never guide them to a decision, and this approach will never work. Without that knowledge, you can only throw options at them and wait to see which ones stick.

This approach should be another tool in your arsenal rather than the perfect solution to the problem. Discuss the concept with your clients, help them see the benefits. If they don’t buy into it, the rest is up to you.

Understanding and Insight

This approach is impossible if you do not have a good solid grasp of your client’s goals and business. Clients do not always afford enough time to help you gain the right level of familiarity with their business, and I recognize that. However, without that understanding, you are going to have a very difficult time no matter what approach you take. In fact, a lack of commitment on the part of the client is one of the only reasons that I would suggest turning down their business.

Without a deep understanding of your client, their goals, and their business, you can never guide them to a decision, and this approach will never work. Without that knowledge, you can only throw options at them and wait to see which ones stick. In that case, you aren’t guiding them, you are just offering some half-baked solutions and making them do all of the legwork and critical thinking to arrive at the final solution. If you have the right knowledge and understanding, you should be in a position to do that legwork for them.

Survival of the Fittest

In our situation, we were going into these meetings with several weak ideas in place of one strong one. Some of you might say, “Everybody at our company produces really great work, so that doesn’t apply to us. We don’t produce weak ideas.” That may be the case. Nonetheless, I guarantee you they could be stronger. If you have three ideas with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, why not take the extra step and pull them together internally? Show your client one idea that has it all rather than three ideas that have bits and pieces. Which would you honestly rather present if you had the choice?

An Analogy

Offering multiple choices is like playing baseball blindfolded. You might still get three swings, but you won’t be spending much time on base. You might even get a hit, but it won’t be a homerun. Guiding, on the other hand, frees you of the blindfold and lets you plan and wait for that perfect idea. Then, when you’re ready and it’s a good pitch, you can take your swing knowing it’s going to be a homerun. Personally, I prefer homeruns.

The Unfortunately Necessary Disclaimer (and Summary)

This won’t work in every situation. Some clients just won’t buy it. In this situation, it’s usually a matter of control or subjective issues, and in my ever so humble opinion, that’s a problem with the client, not the approach.

Also, as with any other part of a project, if you don’t have a deep understanding of your client’s needs and goals, this won’t work. Often, your client just won’t provide you with the time you need to gain this knowledge. Regardless though, You can’t solve problems that you don’t understand. In that situation, it’s probably best that you just take a few stabs at it and offer those up for the client to do the rest.

If you have three ideas with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, why not take the extra step and pull them together internally?

Research and evidence are prerequisites. If you can’t backup your one idea with the steps and information that got you there, it won’t work. It takes a lot of effort to gather all of that information.

You should still create multiple ideas. Just don’t present all of them to the client. Refine them internally, and then present your best candidate. Think of it as detailed brainstorming and collaboration.

The whole idea is to help your clients get the best possible results. Frankly, as long as that is your goal, it probably doesn’t matter what approach you take. Consider all of this as one more suggestion to that end.