Earlier we discussed the MECE-principle, which states that every grouping (of arguments, information, data, etc.) should be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. I’ll assume that you’ve read it, so if you didn’t: read up before continuing with this post on the Minto Pyramid Principle.
Barbara Minto was the first female consultant at McKinsey and was tasked with improving communications in the USA and later in the newly opened international offices in Europe. She discovered that all consultants suffered from the same problem: communicating effectively. It triggered her to develop the Minto Pyramid Principle.
Minto’s Pyramid Princple is one way to structure information in an effective manner. Instead of reasoning bottom-up, you should reason top-down, in a pyramidical fashion. By following the pyramid principle, you structure the information up-front before presenting it, which gives the listener a framework to interpret your info and prevents him from forming his own (wrong) framework. Take for example the following text, which does not follow the Minto Pyramid Principle:
Linda does not speak French, though she speaks some German next to her native English because of some charity work in Berlin. She loves snow and hiking in the nature, and is fed up with the busy city-life in New York. She wants to move to Canada to make a fresh start. Therefore she should move to Toronto instead of Quebec.”
This example provides the listener (or in this case, the reader) with a lot of data, followed by the interpretation in a conclusion. This presentation of information does not follow the Minto Pyramid Principle: it is not top down. If you would present your data followed by your conclusion like this, the listener might come to a different conclusion than you. He might for example think that Linda should move to a city on the west coast of Canada. To prevent this from happening, you should follow Minto’s Pyramid Principle:
Linda should move from New York to a Toronto suburb:
- Toronto is in Canada
- A Toronto suburb is closer to natural beauty than New York
- In Toronto, people speak English (instead of French as in other parts of Canada, such as Quebec)
The Minto Pyramid Principle can also be used in business situations, for example during case interviews. The following text does not follow the Minto Pyramid Principle:
When we look at the company sales data, we see that there has been a decline over the years. We also face increased competition, even though we introduced new features two years ago and relaunched the product. These new features required a new factory to be built, which also increased costs. We have to increase market share to attain an economy of scale”
Now, with the Minto Pyramid Principle applied:
To regain profitability we have to improve market share by cutting prices:
- Lower prices will increase sales
- Lower prices vis-a-vis competitors will increase our market share
- Increased volume helps us create economies of scale
The “key line”, the top of the pyramid has to be actionable and must be supported by the arguments following it. These could be key lines themselves and be broken down into sub-arguments (who all should be MECE). Since the Minto Pyramid Principle is used by all consultants, using it during your own case interview is a big plus. The Minto Pyramid Principle is difficult to grasp though. For a more thorough treatment of the Minto Pyramid Principle and how to effectively apply it during your case interviews I recommend buying my book or taking a look at the book by Minto: The Pyramid Principle: logic in writing and thinking.
Also, feel free to comment if you have questions!