The other day my son and I were walking through the mall. As we rounded a corner, he pointed across the mall and said, “There is a candy store over there.” I said, “OK, thanks for letting me know” and kept walking. I knew that he wasn’t just trying to educate me on the retail tenants of our local mall. He wanted some candy. However, like many people, instead of communicating an action or recommendation, he simply passed along information. He hoped that I would infer what he wanted. We eventually stopped in the candy store but only after I gave him a brief lesson on the importance of turning information into action (please don’t call DCFS on me).
We live in a world full of information and that information is becoming more plentiful each day. Unfortunately, as humans, our conscious brains can’t handle a lot of information at once. The best way to navigate a world full of information is to cull down what is important. Instead of creating new information (or facts) from old information, we are better served converting the information we have into statements of action.
Consider this quick example. Try to synthesize these four facts into a concise six word statement:
- Consumers increasingly want to make purchases on-line
- Stores that provide a simple on-line experience see dramatic increases in sales
- Most consumers believe that company websites are difficult to navigate and use
- If a customer can’t complete their purchase within 30 seconds of deciding upon it, they will abandon the sale
How did you do? Was that difficult? For some people, trying to get down to six words can be hard. But, most people overcome that challenge. If you are like most people, you probably came up with a statement like, “Simple customer experience yields greater sales” or “Customers want a simple website experience.” Both statements do a nice job of summarizing the four facts. And, both pack a slightly more powerful punch than the original four. However, as with my son’s statement, these are just information statements. The problem with an information statement is that you leave it up to the recipient to determine what, if any, action is necessary.
The fact that a simple experience increases sales is interesting but somewhat irrelevant if your website already provides a simple experience. If your website doesn’t provide a simple experience, this information is extremely important. The information statement doesn’t provide any insight into which situation you are facing.
Instead of providing information statements, try to convert the information statement into an action statement by asking yourself three additional questions:
- Given this information, how is my organization performing?
- Based on the information and our current performance, what do we need to DO (start, stop, continue, improve, increase, decrease, etc.)?
- How urgently do we need to do it?
Then combine those answers with the original information statement to create an action
- We need to simplify our website (if you believe your website is complicated)
- We should maintain current usability levels (if you believe your website is ok)
If you don’t mind going to seven words, you could add the word “urgently” to the first statement if you believe that your competitors are way ahead of you. The simple additional of the word “urgently” summarizes your entire assessment of your performance against your competitors.
Information statements are backward-facing. They pause or stop the dialog. They require your receiver to figure out how to move forward. They also create more opportunities for confusion. The recipient has to try to anticipate why you shared the information and what you expect him or her to do with it. In other cases, the recipient may apply their own biases and filters to the statement, interpreting it differently from the way that you intended. That moves you further from getting your message across and can often take the discussion in a direction you didn’t intend.
Action statements are forward looking. They continue to move the analysis and conversation along rather than pausing them. Action statements provide greater clarity and opportunity for dialog.
We don’t look at data to be informed nor do we communicate data simply to inform. There’s too much data and not enough time to just pass along information. If you are looking to drive data-driven decisions and actions, start communicating data-driven decisions and actions. Don’t leave it up to your audience to figure out what you want them to do. Otherwise, you may wind up walking past the candy store and miss out on your treat.