Need to explain what you do? Start by being a kid.

The other day, I was sat with a of the newly funded startup CEO’s.

As usual, he’s smart. Technically competent. And, as with a lot of founders, has no idea how to simply explain what his new company does.

Here’s how we figured that out.

Start with the basics

Describe the moving parts.

In this example, it’s a cyber security company that generates regexes using machine learning to both create new threats that haven’t been seen and protect against them.

Sexy. And unfathomable to anyone that’s not a specialist in this space. I very much include myself in the unfathomable group.

So let’s start to make the specific more general.

Simplify the core elements

There are 3 main moving parts here.

The thing that needs protecting - companies.
What they need to protect - data.
How they protect it - regex.

Key to this is a regex. So what does that do, simply?

Well, it’s a thing that let’s some things in and keeps some things out.

Like a membrane of sorts.

Right now we have a slightly clearer picture of the elements involved, but aren’t really able to see the woods from the trees.

Make an analogy - think kids

So let’s take this and pretend we’re explaining it to a child.

We have our 3 parts.

  1. The thing that needs protecting - companies.
  2. What they need to protect - data.
  3. How they protect it - regex.

If we simplify that a bit further:

  1. We have a structure, in this case a company.
  2. The company has valuable stuff, in this case, data.
  3. And they need to protect it from threats, in this case, cyber attacks. They do this using regex.

And here’s the key ingredient. Create from this a childlike visual that we can start to rebuild everything around. In this example, we decided that:

  1. The company becomes a castle.
  2. The thing they’re trying to protect becomes treasure.
  3. How they’re protecting it becomes a guard at the gate.

Simple analogy’s like this are really helpful. They make the solution feel understandable and so allow us to start to understand it better ourselves.

Now we have our story, the rest can start to make sense.

The castle has to let the common people come and go each day (customers). But keep the bad guys out (hackers). Or our treasure (data) will get nicked.

We now have a frame that’s simple enough for a child to understand. And ironically, simple enough for us all to finally start to see what the stakes are here.

Develop the analogy based on the strengths

We need to now add in the current issues with the approach today and use that to highlight why this new way is much better. In other words, our value.

The problem with the current setup is that the guard only knows baddies after he’s let them in and the treasure has been nicked.

After that’s happened they know not to let that same reprobate in. But that’s a pretty crappy way of doing things.

The strength of this new guard is that they constantly get shown new baddies, told they’re baddies and so knows not to let them in.

So these new guards spend their days in training. Sparing. Learning these new baddies and how to keep them out.

Re-introduce some of the key technical aspects

We have to still explain complex things. Like what a regex is. Why this approach is better than todays. What the stakes are in real world terms.

But we can now do this by threading our analogy through that complex terrain.

Introducing the concept of regex can come after we’ve set the scene of the castle and the treasure. The castle has a guard. This guard in cyber is called regex.

The guard has to let good people in. But keep bad ones out. How do they know who is who? Right now these are programmed manually. So the guard only knows the baddies after they’ve come in and stolen some treasure. Not good.

Our solution generates threats using machine learning so our guards are always sparring and getting better every minute of the day. Meaning they know baddies before they get into the castle and pillage. Better.

The ‘aha’ moment

The most rewarding part of an activity like this is that you understand better what you’re doing.

Suddenly your own vision of the project is clearer. And that gives you a direction to travel in.

Complexity bias is a curse but it’s cure can be really simple. Look at the world through a child’s eyes. Use that simplicity as an anchor. And rebuild around it.

Simple messaging kicks complex messagings arse 24/7/365. Don’t be afraid to say it simply.

I promise it’s not as complicated as you think it is.

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