At Mckinsey, one of the tools used for structured communication is Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle. I was given this book over a decade ago, and still employ it.
In its essence, the Pyramid Principle is about:
- Starting with the answer. (What)
- Group and summarize supporting arguments. (Why)
- Logically order supporting ideas. (How)
Minto Pyramid Principle 101
1. What: Answer the Question
“What” can also be a theory, hypothesis, recommendation or conclusion – it is the Key Message
Starting with your conclusion, or the answer, allows you to be direct and establish the big picture without being bogged down by the details.
The reasons to believe the answer will be answered below.
2. Why: Use Supporting Arguments for the Answer
Reasons to Believe
Grouping and summarizing supporting arguments to one single message is the essence of the pyramid principle, as the lower levels are ideas grouped under summaries of a single thought or key message–the answer.
3. How: Prove with Supporting Ideas
Logically ordering supporting ideas can be done in a few different ways:
- Time order: Use to demonstrate cause and effect
- Structural order: Supporting ideas
- Degree Order : Supporting ideas are ranked (ie Most important to least important)
The point above has to be a summary of those below, because it is derived from them. You can’t derive an idea from a grouping unless the ideas in the grouping are logically the same, and in logical orderBarbara Minto
Using the Pyramid Principle as a Thinking Tool
Additionally, the pyramid principle is a great tool to use for making outlines, and also doubles as a good practice for writing communication briefs. By focusing on a key message, or the bottom line and supporting it with arguments and compelling data, you’re able to get to the point clearly and concisely.