Entrepreneur and former management consultant Ameet Ranadive writes
that one of the main lessons from his time at McKinsey was the importance of going beyond simply summarizing the facts and data related to a problem, and instead offering synthesis.
For Ranadive and his McKinsey colleagues, synthesis = summary + insight.
Ranadive illustrates the difference between a summary and a synthesis using the below hypothetical analysis of a fictional company’s sales data from the previous quarter.
Here’s an example summary:
50% of deals that reached the contract stage typically closed.
This summary gives you the basic facts of the situation, but it doesn’t answer any of the following questions: Are these results good or bad? How do they compare to previous results? What are we now expected to do?
Instead of just summarizing the data, here’s what a synthesis might look like:
50% of deals that reach the contract stage typically closed. This is pretty concerning, because it’s down from our historical average of 60% close rate. We think there may be two reasons for the decrease: (1) lower sales team productivity, and (2) higher loss rates to our competitor. We need to address this problem quickly, because if we don’t, we’re going to lose market share quickly.
As Ranadive puts it, a synthesis “provides more value and meaning, conveys a deeper understanding of the data and the problem, and builds more confidence with the audience.”
To help ensure that you’re offering a synthesis and not just a summary, he offers the following 3 tips:
1. Highlight the most important takeaway
There should one key takeaway, and you can use the following questions to help identity it:
- Are these results directionally good or bad?
- Are the results expected or unexpected?
How do the results compare to benchmarks (historical, industry-wide, etc.)?
2. Point out the root causes
Ranadive writes that he was often encouraged to anticipate an executive’s next question when presenting his findings, and that two of the most common questions that came up were: What happened? Why are we seeing these results?
To get ahead of these questions, he suggests being prepared to share your hypothesis behind the findings you’re presenting.
In the above hypothetical example, offering the two hypotheses for why we’re seeing lower sales results helps to anticipate the What happened? question.
3. State the implication(s)
Finally, Ranadive suggests that you present the implications of your findings.
Here are some questions you can use as a guide:
- What happens if this trend continues?
- What does this finding mean to the company’s strategic goals and prospects?
What does it tell you about the company’s key business assumptions?
In the same hypothetical example from above, the implication is that if we don’t address the problem, the company is quickly going to lose market share.