Not everyone likes an outline. Charlie, a paralegal in a large law office, explains, "When I try to outline, I feel as if my brain is in a straight jacket. I go blank. It just doesn't work for me."
Hub & Spokes is an alternative approach. Instead of following a prescribed organizational format with strict hierarchical rules, Hub & Spokes allows you to follow your thoughts in an easy-to-track manner.
In the center of a blank piece of paper, draw a circle. Jot a summary of your objective and your audience in the circle. That's your hub: the essence of your communication challenge. Draw lines out from the circle. These spokes will serve as links from your hub to related thoughts.
Charlie, the paralegal, says, "I love the Hub & Spokes model. It works well for me. For example, I wanted to go to a seminar, but the firm had put a hold on all outside training. No surprise. Another example of cost reduction. The seminar was on document retention, so I knew it would be useful for our firm. But my boss said no, not now. Check back in six months. I didn't want to wait, so I decided to take one last crack at winning her approval.
"My objective was to have her say yes and authorize the expense. She's all Producer, very bottom-line oriented, so I needed to keep my eye on the ball. I knew a focus on the cost-savings benefit of learning what papers we didn't have to retain was key. In terms of formality, well, my score was nine, so a matter-of-fact memo seemed like a good idea. I thought about E-mail, but we're pretty conservative as a firm, and I didn't think that an E-mail would convey a serious enough image. Using the Matrix of Persuasion, clearly my challenge was to persuade.
"I thought about using a category organizational structure, but went with PAR because it seemed easier. Here's my Hub & Spokes model (see Figure 2.2.)
"I was surprised that 'Professional Development' popped out of my head. If you'd asked me if I thought I should mention professional development in my efforts to persuade my boss, I'd have given you a flat-out no. But it came into my mind, so I wrote it down."
After completing the first level of spokes, Charlie picked "Professional Development" to work with next. "I was curious where it would lead me. When I focused on it, benefits to the firm came out of my head loud and clear. It's obvious that sending staff to seminars is one way to attract and keep good employees, but what is less obvious is that training employees is a selling point to clients. Clients need to know that the staff keeps up with changes in the laws.
"Suddenly, I realized I'd identified a benefit that was likely to be compelling to my Producer boss: attracting and retaining clients."
The Hub & Spokes model is a way of getting what's in your head on paper. The trick is not to edit yourself. As you work with it, you'll find that sometimes silly or unrelated comments occur to you. Write them down. You'll bring yourself back to the project at hand. Don't edit! Editing some comments may result in unintentionally editing others. So if "Oops! I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer!" pops into your head, write "chicken" and "freezer" and move on. You'll bring yourself back on track.
Note that after writing your objective and a summary of your readers in the hub, your next step is to draw a few spokes. There's no specific number to draw or complete. When you run out of ideas, stop. Pick whichever spoke interests you, draw a circle around it, draw some spokes from it, and repeat the process. You keep going until you've jotted down all the relevant ideas that occur to you.
Charlie explains, "I didn't draw spokes out of any point except for 'Professional Development' because other points had already occurred to me, and I knew what I wanted to say about them."
Once you've completed the Hub & Spokes model to whatever level of detail you think is appropriate, decide which is your best point. That's usually where you want to start.
Notice that the first level of spokes represents your broad categories: paragraphs within a letter or report, for example, or sections within a proposal.
"Given my boss's orientation, I decided to start with the point about professional development. My memo began as follows:
Given that clients demand that we be up-to-date with our knowledge of all relevant laws, attending a seminar to learn what documents must be retained on our clients' behalf is not an employee perk; it's critical to our firm's ability to maintain its leadership position.
"I went on to mention other benefits, for example, that we'd save money by not having to store unnecessary documents. And I ended with this:
Bottom line: We need me to acquire this knowledge now.
"Guess what? My boss said yes. And she told me that my memo was really well written."
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