#SOTD 36: Using mystery to unveil the answer

1. Make me Understand / 2. Make me Engaged

#SOTD 36: Using mystery to unveil the answer

There’s a principle that’s drilled into entry-level consultants at Mckinsey (and other major consult firms): Start with the answer first.

The idea is – senior audiences are busy and don’t have the patience for getting to know all the details about your findings, research sources, methodology etc. They need clarity upfront; the details can come later.​

Oh, but every rule has an exception.​

In some situations, it is fun, engaging and more effective to take the audience through the discovery process of the answer… complete with the blind alleys, wrong turns etc.​

When can you do that?

  • When the audience has allotted you adequate time and is likely to let you speak without interruptions
  • When the answer is something that took you by surprise… and was arrived at after several testing out several other hypotheses
  • When you have credibility with the audience – i.e. they trust that when you are taking the scenic route, the view will be worth the longer ride!

I came across an example of this technique in a recent post by Tomas Pueyo, a thinker and writer whom I admire a lot. In the article, Tomas draws connections between fall in fertility and its impact on global affairs

So how does Tomas do that in this post?​

He first sets up the mystery with the following facts:

  • Fertility is been falling globally
  • Conventional wisdom attributes the fall to increasing prosperity, urbanisation and better healthcare and sanitation
  • As per that logic, countries/regions which got those benefits first should have seen falling fertility
  • But that has not been the observed history. Tomas shows that although Britain achieved these benefits much before France and New England (Massachusetts), the latter two regions saw a reduction in fertility first.​

Why so? What caused the fertility fall in New England and France?​

The mystery begins!​

Tomas explores various alleys. Was it sanitation? No.​

Was is because of early marriages? Not really.​

What was that common factor that led to the fall in fertility?​

And did that fall in fertility have something to do with the timing of two of the most influential political revolutions in history which happened in these two regions (the American Revolution and the French Revolution)?​

To know the answers, read the post!​

Use the power of mystery when you can. It can be an unforgettable experience for your audience.​

#SOTD 36

PS: Another favourite storyteller, Paul Smith also talks about this technique, with a lovely example in this video.

PPS: Here is the context for SOTD and the framework I use in case you joined this series late!

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