The note below was sent by a Rationale user in a major Australian corporation, who had received some coaching from Austhink’s Jane Lewis.

It arrived soon after I had finished the previous post suggesting that for more effective thinking, what we need is not more conscious thinking, or to leave things to our unconscious, but rather systematic processes supplemented by external resources which complement our inborn cognitive strengths. Case in point:

I have only been using Rationale for a very short time but, with your help, have been able to quickly learn the basics of argument mapping and been able to use argument maps to make important decisions and influence my management in their decision making. I know that I am developing a valuable skill.

My use of Rationale has been in 3 phases: organising arguments, interacting with peers and stakeholders to develop the argument, and presenting the argument to management. The first two tend to form an iterative process. Sometimes management feedback leads to another iteration series. I suspect there is scope for considerable value in doing more than I have done so far in the interaction phase.

The disciplines of capturing the elements of the argument; organising them in an argument map and then “abstracting up and filling down” leads me to a better and clearer understanding of my argument. It exposes shortcomings, occasionally leading to a re-evaluation of the value of a position. It also exposes openings into which new ideas can emerge.

The argument map is a wonderful communication tool – my peers can quickly see how I am thinking and provide relevant feedback.

Having assembled an argument, clarified it through organising it in a map, expanded it with new ideas and improved it with the feedback from my peers, I can present it to management. They can immediately see the entire argument on a single page. It is organised in terms of the key strategic drivers of the business (“abstracted up”) and the strengths and weaknesses of the argument are immediately apparent. They can quickly reach a position from which they can ask good questions or make valid criticisms. A key management skill is making good decisions quickly on minimal information – the argument map makes this easy.

Let me sketch out how argument mapping with Rationale has helped with a business decision of importance for my department.

The department owns several assets but one of these is not important to our core business objectives. Our company is doing well and a key goal for us is to keep focussed on work that delivers maximum value. Managing unimportant assets is a low-value activity but external constraints prevent simple disposal. I constructed an argument map in support of the proposition that we should trade this asset for an option over other more valuable assets.

Organising the map by abstracting up allowed me to focus on the key issues of COST, BUSINESS FOCUS, COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE, RISK MANAGEMENT and OPTIONALITY. The arguments for and against the proposition were easily organised in terms of these themes with Rationale. Then I discovered a clear space in the map and immediately a whole new option for our business emerged. I realised that there was completely different way to acquire new options which leads to an elegant method for determining the value of those options. Valuing options is crucially important in our business and good valuations provide a key advantage in negotiations. Mapping the argument gave me a powerful new insight.

I described the proposition to my manager (without showing him the map) – his initial response was negative and he gave his reasons but the mapping process had prepared me. I was able to easily refute his reasoning and describe the value in my proposition. Within 5 minutes he was persuaded and enthusiastically in favour of the idea.

He took the proposition up to his manager and was asked to write a 4 page memo to support the proposition. My manager and I spent many hours honing the memo to present a clear argument. Once it was sent and read, the reply was a long set of questions and criticisms. It was clear that we had failed to communicate our ideas; senior management simply do not have the time to spend thinking through an argument – it is easier for them to send off their immediate impressions and move to the next issue.

I sent my manager my argument map – the entire argument presented clearly in an organised way on a single page. We spent a little time further refining the map and then he was able to present it to senior management over breakfast and see comprehension dawn!

Next week we have a meeting at which we hope to have our proposition signed off!

[Reproduced with permission of the author.]