One of the tools we keep in our arsenal here at Audienz is the Pyramid Principle
—an old school problem-solving and writing methodology created by McKinsey #girlboss Barbara Minto. In fact, we believe so much in the effectiveness of Minto’s work that we’ve been known to deliver training sessions on it to our clients.
I use the Pyramid Principle in all the writing and messaging/positioning development I do for work. It’s so engrained in my brain these days that I use it even when I’m not thinking about it. Case in point, a letter I wrote to my nephew who’s a senior in high school. The letter is intended to be a memento of sorts for the graduating class as they embark on their next chapter in life. As I was pondering what I could say that wouldn’t bore him or be straight-up cheesy (Auntie loves you buddy!), I found myself applying the very same storytelling methodology that helps me with clients. So what exactly is the Pyramid Principle? Here’s the scoop:
A little background.
- Developed (back in the day) in 1978 by Barbara Minto
- Used by top consulting firms for decades
- Used by Audienz for more than a decade to create winning tech B2B campaigns
What’s it all about? (Hint: it’s simple…sort of)
- In order to comprehend all the information that comes in, our brains automatically sort everything into distinctive pyramid groups
- These groups simplify life by delivering pre-sorted information to us
- If we apply this theory to written documents, we end up with content deliberately structured to form a
pyramid of ideas
How does it work?
The Pyramid Principle leverages both top-down and bottom-up logic. A good pyramid starts with a solid conclusion or hypothesis, then backs it up with evidence or reasoning.
There are two ways to build a pyramid; with inductive or deductive logic. Inductive logic uses patterns and similarities (evidence) to answer why or how, while deductive logic drives the reader step by step to reach a conclusion. I typically use inductive logic to build pyramids. Let me show you with a little goldfish plug.
The goldfish example is inductive because it starts with a conclusion and uses the supporting statements to prove the conclusion that goldfish are great hypnotists. Value propositions are commonly built this way.
Here’s an example of deductive logic:
This is deductive because a series of statements about being a bird lead to the final conclusion that because I am a bird, I fly.
If you ever create content or even communications, the Pyramid Principle can benefit you. It takes a little getting used to, but can be your secret weapon to make sure you hook your audience quickly and validate your own thinking (it’s a great BS meter). If you want to learn more, you can read Minto’s book. Just be prepared for some serious academic writing. If you want to learn more about it from folks who use it every day, drop us a line!
BTW: If you’re wondering what the pyramid was in my nephew’s senior letter, it went something like this: