Why do taxonomies matter, anyway?
Structured thinking is in short supply in 2020. Recitation of balkanized talking points seems to be a safer alternative to “showing your work” with original thought. Unfortunately, the business world has not been insulated from this shift. Just look at the sheer number of buzzwords required to send the average memo. We’ve become experts at talking around issues instead of talking about them. That’s actually the way we write e-mails:
“Jane, I feel our team should have a discussion around the organization’s approach to broccoli.”
In order to have productive conversations, we need organized thinking. In order to have organized thinking, we need to organize our thoughts. Seems simple – reductive, even – no? But how do you organize your thoughts?
After decades of approaching problem-solving missions with ad-hoc thought organization, McKinsey started to develop “technology” for taxonomies that enabled more consistent decisionmaking. It all came together when Barbara Minto realized that the strongest articulations of arguments resembled pyramids when put down on paper. Read more from the horse’s mouth here.
A strong recommendation at the top
Three supporting arguments underneath it
Three pieces of key data under each supporting argument
Obvious? I agree. At least, it should be. But how many people do you know who actually communicate this clearly?
Barbara realized that when you’re limited to 9 total supporting elements for a recommendation which might imply hundreds of millions of dollars of client spend, those elements need to be 1) non-overlapping and 2) conclusive.
1) Mutually Exclusive
2) Collectively Exhaustive
In a MECE taxonomy, the sum of the categories makes up 100% of the whole, with no missing pieces. At the same time, none of the items in a particular category could accurately be placed in another simultaneously. Think: US Males 0-10, 11-20, 21-30, etc.