Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Getting Things Done Without Bullets

I made time recently to read two really great books: Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done and Beyond Bullet Points.

The first book, Execution, was given to my entire team at work by my Director. The underlying message I walked away with, which I completely buy into, is that while vision, strategy, planning, <insert other business stuff here> is important, nothing is as critical as the ability to execute. Moreover, an individual or a team's ability to execute is often incredibly difficult to gauge, and is regularly overlooked. Often, when things go wrong, we point the finger at market conditions -- or anything else outside of our control -- but rarely identify execution as a culprit.

The book's authors walk through what makes, and how to build, a culture of execution. At a high level, I took quite a bit away from the read. But, I'll probably need to give it another go 5-7 years down the road. The last 2/3rds focuses largely on hiring and operating strategies for the highest levels of the world's largest organizations. I felt a little out of the loop, not having interviewed any candidates for CEO positions lately. My other big complaint was that many of the anecdotes, while interesting, won't be memorable due to the omission of company names. Unfortunate.

The second book, Beyond Bullets, was a really fun read. It's one of those books that people have been talking about for ages, and that I finally got around to diving into.

Basically, bullets are boring. Stop trying to pack information into Powerpoint presentations in the form of bullets. Use Powerpoint to tell a story instead. People like stories. In fact, the book is written largely in the form of a story, which made for a very quick, engaging read. Cliff, the author, has a blog. Very interesting stuff.

A great blog post on presentations I came across is over on IA THINK, written by one of my friend Jill's coworkers. Also highly recommend checking that one out - contains lots of good links.

I have a big presentation to give at work next Monday to a sizeable group of people I've never met who are older and more experienced than I, including Directors way high above me in the organization. I'm weary of taking the chance and ditching bullets for a story-driven slide deck, but am strongly considering it at this point.

In general, giving presentations to large groups of unfamiliar people isn't one of my strongest competencies (yet). Anyone have any advice/suggestions for me?


markjen said...

You'd better stick to bullet points for your presentation. If you try a story-driven deck, your audience probably won't understand it and they'll think you're a bad presenter.

Then again, if it were me, I'd do a story-driven deck :)

kraazyivan said...

In my experience no matter how cool it is, they will daydream until their part comes up. Oh wait, that's a meeting...

arvind s grover said...

Adam, I am definitely going to read Beyond Bullets, as I have been thinking about this a lot.

Edward Tufte's critique on PowerPoint is one you should take a look at. My review of Tufte and bullets and my thoughts on why lists don't work well.

adamjh said...

Hey Arvind, great blog! Thanks for the links.

The presentation I gave yesterday had no bullet points, and it went really really well. I completely relied on the power of the sentence, plus some helpful visuals to pique interest and add meaning (like showing a screenshot when talking about a UI).

I found that the biggest challenge was that afterwards, a few people asked for copies of the deck. While it's easy to grok information from a deck full of content in the form of bullets, it's a bit harder from a deck whose main purpose is to augment the speaker's sentences. I did throw some content into the Powerpoint Notes sections, but still.. not quite the same.

Anyhow, despite the last point, I'm totally sold on leaving bullet points in the dust whenever possible.

As for your thoughts on lists not working and Getting Things Done.. I started reading Getting Things Done, and actually put it down because I felt the proposed 'workflow' for getting things done was a bit too involved. It does, however, make some good points. I do use lists, and I find that prioritizing them helps tremendously. Perhaps at some point I should dedicate a post to my current system, and see what people think.

Anyhow, thanks for reading and for leaving your links here.

- Adam

arvind s grover said...

Adam, I am going to transition my current systems (whatever those are) to the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. One of the biggest things about GTD is that you have to have a system that accounts for everything you need to do. My current systems work well, I am more organized than many other people, but it does not necessarily give me the confidence I want in it. With GTD, you know nothing will be getting "lost" and you can focus on the work at hand.

For instance right now I use two products from 37signals, Basecamp, and Backpack. Both are great for managing list, projects and more. I also use Outlook tasks and calendar, plus paper lists, my work notebook and a personal notebook. I also use Protopage to post information that I might need between work, home, that doesn't fit in any of the previously mentioned categories. Then add iCal to that list, and you see the insanity. I mean I get all my stuff done, but i am ready to Get Things Done.

I will start blogging about this soon. Hopefully it goes well.

My first step was to empty my e-mail inbox with Merlin Mann's help. Inbox Zero is changing the way I work.