Barbara Minto´s Pyramid Principle shows how we organize our ideas in pyramids with increasing levels of abstractions going up the pyramid and increased degree of detail as we move down in the pyramid.
Several people have asked me, so here it is: a high resolution summary of the Pyramid Principle. I have found that the most common mistakes made when using the principle has to do with how we group, conclude and introduce the material:
- A failure to group horizontal ideas in a logical fashion;
- A failure to synthesize the meaning of a grouping on a lower level;
- A failure to contextualize the material properly in a story format
Failure #1: A failure to group in a logical fashion
- Not same kind of idea (e.g. Asia, Africa, Angola, or mixing action and situation ideas)
- Ideas not in logical order (e.g. middle, end, beginning). Proper order is either ranking, timeline, system or strategic
- Ideas not MECE. You either have gaps or overlap in your partition.
Problems with groupings tend to cascade; if you try to group ideas that are not logical the same (e.g. coffee and "hot drinks") on the same horizontal level, it becomes impossible to determine logical order, and impossible to figure out if the ideas are MECE.
- Use intellectually blank statement (IBS) instead of synthesis. (e.g. "Outlook" instead of "the outlook is positive")
- Synthesis is not supported by grouping on the level below (wrong synthesis)
- Synthesis is only extracted from some of the grouped ideas on lower level (too narrow) , or synthesis extracted from ideas not on the level below (too wide)
The value of starting with a good conclusion is increasing as more data is becoming available to all.
- Situation is a complication. Your audience don´t agree with the situation (e.g. "We all agree that global warming is caused by humans" might not be something your adience will agree to.)
- Wrong or missing complication. Your audience disagree with the complication (e.g. saying that smoking is harmful when the problem might be addiction)
- Solution don´t follow from situation-complication.