That moment of blinding insight in a Zoom breakout room

5. General

That moment of blinding insight in a Zoom breakout room

About 10 days back. I’m in a Zoom breakout room of a course that I’m participating in. The coach has given us an exercise and asked us to share our response with each other.

It’s my turn. I talk about my ‘ABCD’ Data Story framework. You could tell I’m excited about it. After all it took me several years to distil it to its essence.

I’m expecting words on the lines of: “Oh that’s so simple yet clear!”, or “You’ve broken down the topic so well!”.

Instead, I get a few points of feedback that make me go: “WHOAAAAAaaaaaa, wait a minute…”

Light can be illuminating. It can also be blinding.

Ditto for insights.

In that breakout room that day, I expected the warm glow of praise. Instead, I got the blinding flash of insight.

This is the story of that moment.

The Coach (always) needs coaching

I teach people how to tell stories with data. But I realised I wasn’t telling a great story of my own work. Growth and discovery was happening, but too slowly. Of all the potential folks who could benefit from the techniques I was teaching, a small fraction knew about Story Rules.

It was time to change that. It was time to attach a Course Marketing engine to my Product.

On this topic, there was only one course that I was waiting for: Billy Broas’ Keystone Accelerator.

I’d gotten to know about Billy’s work through Tiago Forte. It wasn’t just Tiago. The leading pioneers of the brave new cohort-based-course world – including David Perell, Khe Hy and Ali Abdaal – have Billy as their course marketing coach.

So I was really keen to attend Billy’s Keystone course. Trouble is that the program wasn’t held too frequently (*cough* ESD *cough*) and so I was thrilled when it was announced this September. I read the details eagerly.

The good part: It was spread out over a long period. A 6-week sprint starting 12-October, followed by hand-holding for a whole year. This design meant that I would get a lot of time to implement the course frameworks and use the support of the community when I would get stuck.

Also, it would be a small, intimate cohort. Which meant more personal time with Billy and a stronger bond with other participants.

The challenging part: There were two challenges for me. One was the fee. This was the most expensive course I’ve ever taken. At $7,500, more than double my entire two-year IIM-A tuition (admittedly, in my time, which was 2003-05, the MBA program was really subsidised and cheap!). But I believed that the long-term value of the program would be significantly higher. What really helped me in taking the decision was a superb email series and course marketing video by Tiago where he shared the immense impact Billy’s coaching had had on his flagship ‘Building a Second Brain‘ course.

Also over the past year, I’ve developed a strong belief when it comes to learning for senior professionals. It’s this: The real constraint to learning is not money, it’s time.

I was convinced that the program would be extremely valuable. But I was more concerned about whether I would find the time to do justice to the course requirements.

The time issue: So the course entailed at least 4.5 hours of sessions every week for six weeks. And it was right in the Diwali period, when we had a 10-day family vacation lined up. And oh, the timings were late-night India time (with the time bumping up to a 10.30 pm start once daylight savings kicked in!). Plus, post Diwali turned out to be an unusually busy time for my corporate training sessions.

Now, to be honest, the Time-related challenge has been tough for me. I’ve struggled to attend all sessions and work on my assignments (thank God for recordings). Still, I’m hopeful of catching up during the month-long break for Christmas.

Anyway, this course had to be done now and I’m really happy that I didn’t wait for the next cohort.

Let me dive into how the course impacted me.

A simple framework for transformation

The course completed its 6-week sprint this week. Over this period, I’ve upended several assumptions about my work and gotten better clarity on:

  • Who should be my ideal customer?
  • Why I should have an ideal customer?!
  • How to empathise with their pain?
  • How to differentiate my product my approach from others?
  • How to build an offer that’s irresistible?
  • How to build meaningful content around these insights?

The good thing about Billy’s course is that the content framework he uses to help you answer these questions is really simple and elegant. It’s called the 5 Lightbulbs and it is meant to be a guide for your Ideal Customer as she navigates from her current Status Quo to the New life.

Here’s a quick overview of the same

  • Lightbulb 1: A vivid description of the customer’s current undesirable status quo
  • Lightbulb 2: Acknowledgement of other approaches the customer has tried to solve the problem
  • Lightbulb 3: Description of your differentiated approach to solving the problem
  • Lightbulb 4: Details of your Offer – the core product with all add-ons
  • Lightbulb 5: Vivid description of the customer’s New Life

You can read more about the framework here.

In it, Billy uses the analogy of a bridge to indicate the transformation that you need to engineer in your customer’s life. You need to help them move from their undesirable status quo, to the New Life.

Now, I know of this Customer journey concept in theory. After all I teach it as part of my Business Storytelling course through my 7Cs Story Framework.

And yet, I wasn’t really applying it to my own customer. I needed to do that.

That moment of blinding insight

The most powerful element of the Keystone Accelerator course is its relentless focus on implementation. In every session there are several opportunities to work on your 5 Lightbulbs in the class itself.

In the session, Billy would explain one element of the framework. And then he would get us to do ‘silent writing work’ where we would apply the framework to our own programs. It’s incredibly useful to have that specific prompt and dedication of time to this activity (which would otherwise get procrastinated away).

Once we’d done our silent writing, came the critical part – we would get into breakout rooms to discuss our progress.

These breakout rooms with other participants were special. You might think – hang on, how can someone who doesn’t understand your business and is not a potential customer give you clear feedback?

So it works because of two reasons:

  • This is a group of smart, empathetic folks who really want you to succeed
  • All of them understand the 5 Lightbulbs framework and are able to ask intelligent questions that strengthen your thinking

Here’s an example. In one session, Billy had asked us to write down our ‘Lightbulb 3’ – what differentiates our approach to solving our client’s problem – and share it with our co-participants in the breakout room.

Here is a dramatised reconstruction of the conversation in my breakout room featuring Gwyn and Peter.

(A disclaimer: I may be wrong in remembering some details of the meeting. Gwyn, Peter, if you’re reading this, apologies if there’re any mistakes with my recollection!)

Ravi: Hey guys, I’d like to show you my Lightbulb 3. It took me many years to reach this place. I was inspired by Tiago Forte’s CODE mnemonic and I came up with the ABCD framework for Data Storytelling.

Peter: But Ravi, this is not telling me anything about you! Anybody could have the ABCD framework. Where does this reflect your differentiation? What makes you the best person to deliver this framework?

Gwyn: I agree. It needs to reflect what’s unique about you.

Me (thinking): (Damn, they are right)

Me: Well, you could say what makes me the right person to do this is a balance of structure and creativity. I have a background in accounting and…

Peter: Balance! You could talk about a balanced approach as your thing…

Me (thinking): (Hm, I’ve considered that before, but somehow it didn’t feel the right differentiator)

And we leave it at that. But Peter’s comment has seeded an idea in my mind. An idea to figure out the true differentiator of my work.

I mull over it over the next few days.

And then the A-Ha moment strikes.

My differentiator, my ‘Lightbulb 3’ to helping my customers tell better stories at work?


So here’s the deal:

1. Narratives are the missing element at workplace storytelling

Having intimately studied corporate presentations over the last 5+ years, as I have taught participants across industries and functions, I have one clear finding: We need better Narrative skills.

Some folks are good at visuals, while some are really good in delivery. But almost all of them can do with significant improvement in the Narrative area.

2. My course is about Narrative

There are many approaches to solving my customer’s problem of telling better stories at work. You could focus on the visualisation aspect, you could focus on the delivery area while some others focus on a narrow skill of telling better anecdotes.

All of these have their place, but my focus is clear – the Narrative aspect. I believe that this is the most important element in the ABCD framework. This also reflects in the amount of time I give to that element in my course – about 70-75% of my entire course is focused on Narrative.

In other words, learning the Narrative element would offer the most impact for my Ideal customer.

And it turns out, when I’m teaching Data Storytelling, I’m essentially teaching Data Narratives.

This was my blinding flash of insight. My differentiated approach, my Lightbulb 3 is: Narrative-Driven Data Storytelling

There are many definitions of the word ‘insight’. The psychologist Gary Klein (who’s brilliant book, I’m currently reading) calls it an “unexpected shift to a better story”. Another one I like is “an insight is a new finding that is obvious in hindsight“.

This insight of mine fell in the second category: a new finding that made me go “DUHHH!”

And it’s one that will transform my work.

What next

These are still early days in the transformation journey for me. The initial breakthrough is tempting me to formally change my course name from the current ‘Effective Storytelling with Data’ to… either ‘Narrative-Driven Data Storytelling’ or just ‘Narrative-Driven Storytelling’. (let me know if you have an opinion!).

But I need to first talk to some past and potential customers to see if it resonates.

I’ll also be working more on my ‘5 Lightbulbs’ to get more clarity on the transformation that I want to bring in my customers lives.

Photo by Daniel Herron on Unsplash

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