Clear and Persuasive Communication – Wes Kao

5. General

Clear and Persuasive Communication – Wes Kao

Welcome to the fifty-seventh edition of ‘3-2-1 by Story Rules‘.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

Before we begin, a request: If you feel that this newsletter offers you value, please forward it to your friends and colleagues who might benefit from it! Here’s the subscription link.

Alright, let’s dive in.

𝕏 3 Tweets of the week

Source: X

Related to the tweet above, I came across another great set of lines from William Zinsser’s classic ‘On Writing Well’ –Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write… considerations of sound and rhythm should go into everything you write. If all your sentences move at the same plodding gait, which even you recognize as deadly but don’t know how to cure, read them aloud.

Source: X

Is this the future of presentations – using a group of AI agents to do the job for you?

So I think that Gen-AI can surely help you to create the first draft of your work presentations. But like I had elaborated earlier in this video, you had better up your storytelling game to craft better prompts

Source: X

Boy, the difference between the US and the rest of the world is quite stark.

Good example of data + concrete examples in the same visual.

📄 2 Articles of the week

a. ‘America’s Manufacturing Renaissance Will Create Few Good Jobs’ by Dani Rodrik
(Hat/tip: ROTD by Swanand Kelkar and Saurabh Singh)

The share of manufacturing in total employment seems to be falling across administrations in the US, despite measures to arrest the fall:

When Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the share of US manufacturing in non-farm employment was 8.6%. When he left office, that figure had fallen to 8.4%, despite his attempt to shore up employment through import tariffs. And despite Biden’s significantly more ambitious efforts, manufacturing employment has dropped further, to 8.2%. The decline in manufacturing employment as a share of total employment (even if not in absolute terms) seems to be an irreversible trend.

And this seems to be a global trend:

…one looks in vain around the world for successful examples of reversing the de-industrialization of employment. Germany has a larger manufacturing sector than the US, relative to the size of its economy, but the share of manufacturing employees has dropped like a rock. South Korea has achieved the remarkable feat of steadily increasing manufacturing’s weight in the economy in recent decades, but this has not prevented the sector’s share of employment from declining. Even in China, the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, employment in the sector has been falling for more than a decade, both in absolute terms and as a share of total employment.

The implication: governments may as well look towards services for large scale employment generation:

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that boosting manufacturing employment is like chasing a fast-receding target. The world has moved on, and the nature of manufacturing technologies has changed irrevocably. Automation and skill-biased technology have made it extremely unlikely that manufacturing can become the labor-absorbing activity that it once was. Whether we like it or not, services such as retail, care work, and other personal services will remain the primary engine of job creation. That means we need different types of good-jobs policies, with a greater focus on fostering productivity and labor-friendly innovation for services.

I tried to check for exceptions to this rule. To some extent Vietnam has bucked the trend. Manufacturing’s share of employment has increased from 13.8% to 21.4% from 2012 to 2022, though it is plateauing in the last few years. My point is that there may still be labour intensive manufacturing sectors (like apparel and toys) where India can grow its share.

b. ‘Not just another piece of content, Afghanistan have been a headline-grabbing act’ by Sidharth Monga

If Sid Monga writes something (anything), I would read it. This gem – about the the inspiring story of the plucky Afghan cricket team – straddles world-class sporting talent, raw human emotions and even the murky world of geopolitics.

… what do we really know about the support they might need? Can we imagine preparing for our first Test at a makeshift “home” in another land and learning how one of our team-mates back home is helping carry half-dead and dead people to ambulances because terrorists had attacked the “peace” cricket tournament held during Ramadan?

The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire:

When recently asked if his son is playing cricket too, a former Asian cricketer told me it’s not possible for children from his part of the world to reach the highest level. They just haven’t seen enough strife. That’s the perverse part of sport in the colonised world. Some of the best sportspeople tend to become who they are only because desperation pushes them that extra mile, be it cricket in Asia or football in Africa and South America.

And these guys are not asking for pity and special conditions – many of them could make some of the best teams in the world:

Afghanistan have refused to be just a piece of content that people dust off every once in a while. They have continued to produce highly skilled cricketers. Do you know how some Indian cricketers and support staff judge how good the balls are for a particular tournament? If Fazalhaq Farooqi is not moving them in the air, you can forget about moving them. Not just highly skilled cricketers, but highly skilled professionals. It flows from the top. Rashid Khan is as competitive a man as any in this sport.

🎧 1 long-form listen of the week

a. ‘Persuasive communication and managing up | Wes Kao (Maven, Seth Godin, Section4)’ on the Lenny Rachitsky podcast

This is an old one (2022) but I recently came across it and found it insightful. Wes worked with Seth Godin and helped setup his famous Alt-MBA cohort based course. Currently she is the co-founder at Maven, the world’s leading cohort-based-courses platform.

Wes is a prolific writer and has put out several provocative pieces. One of her famous concepts is that of the ‘hierarchy of bullshit’ – and how books and cohort-based-courses are the content formats where it is very difficult to defend BS:

So if you imagine a pyramid, triangle, at the bottom, there’s more room for BS, and at the very top of the triangle, there’s less room for BS. So what’s at the bottom of that triangle? Twitter, podcasts, short articles. It’s basically situations that are one directional where people can’t really challenge what you’re saying. Keynote speech is another great one for lots of room for BS. So those are situations that they’re more one directional.

With Twitter at least, it’s 280 characters. It’s something short that you’re saying that’s a little bit of a mic drop. You just say it, you leave it there, and then you get to walk away without needing to defend it, without needing to share your rationale or think about counter points, and so there’s more room for BS, right? The format encourages or allows it. Let’s say it allows it.

But as you move up the triangle of the content hierarchy of BS, there’s less and less room for BS. So long form in-depth articles, less room for BS. You have to defend the idea, you have to convince your reader. Books, also less room for BS. And at the top of the triangle, courses, one directional courses like video courses on Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, but especially cohort-based courses where there is live and async interaction, there’s very little room for BS.

Wes speaks about the concept of BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):

And I think also structuring your communication in a way where if someone already agrees with you or they get it, they can get the gist, but if someone doesn’t get it, they can continue reading. So that helps people spend their time well.

So I’ll usually put the most important point at the top, the TLDR, if you will, the gist and then I’ll say context, colon, and then that there might be multiple paragraphs of context below for anyone who wants additional thinking on how did I get to this decision, or how did I think about this. But if they already agree with the decision and know that context, then they don’t need to keep reading.

Once you have given the summary upfront, then what do you do? Do you spend several paragraphs of text laying out the context? Or do you cut to the chase? Wes has an interesting formulation to make writing more engaging – ‘start right before you get eaten by the bear’:

I find sometimes in my writing, I’ll write and then go back and cut a lot of the preamble. So most people need less context setting and preamble than you might think. And I have a framework that I call start right before you get eaten by the bear. And the idea is that if you’re telling a story about camping, don’t start talking about going to REI to buy a Patagonia jacket and then booking the campsite and the website had difficulties. And on the drive over, we stopped by this gas station.

​No one cares about all that. Start right before your friend left a Clif Bar out in their tent and you all almost got mauled by a bear. Get to the juicy part. And serve a little bit of context right before you get to the juicy part, but that’s the idea of start right before you get eaten by the bear is cut out all that backstory scope creep

That’s all from this week’s edition.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

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