Hillary Clinton needs a hills writing workshop

What does Donald Trump do well? He cuts through the slew of words and plans enveloping the presidential race in an untangle-able mess. He says simple, understandable sentences with obvious kickers like…

I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall. (watch for yourself)

While in the meantime, Clinton uses massive strings of prepositional phrases like this…

I think we need to go after a company like Johnson Controls that is trying to avoid paying taxes after all of us bailed it out by pretending to sell itself in a so-called inversion in Europe. (read more)

From Trump’s words, we get a clear picture of what he wants to do, and we’re struck by the notion that we won’t even pay for this great, great wall. When we look towards Clinton, I don’t get a strong sense of action. I’m not sure exactly what “…go[ing] after a company like Johnson Controls” looks like. Is it a lawsuit? Are we picketing?

Hills writing

So what is a hills writing workshop and how can it help clear the air? A hill is a plain English sentence that captures the main goals of a project. The construction is simple. They consist of a who, a what, and a wow. The go to example comes out of the space race…

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal […] of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.

— John F. Kennedy

The who in this quote is the man; the astronaut. The what is the act of landing him on the moon, and the wow is returning him safely (in bold). Kennedy does not get into technical requirements of the spacecraft or the complex physics behind landing without terrestrial gravity. He clearly communicates the goal with a wow that hits home. His statement captures the dream that everyone will be working towards. Anyone on the team can ask themselves, does this task advance us towards landing a man on the moon and bringing him home? If not, am I on the right track?

Illustration from IBM Design Thinking

At IBM Smarter Workforce, we use hills to unite the team around a common understanding going forward. Hills are flexible and can grow as a project evolves, but they are the guiding light for all team decisions and point towards desired outcomes. You can read more about hills and design thinking in general from some great resources provided by IBM Design.

A hills workshop is a collaborative session where the cross functional team comes together with their unique perspectives on the user problems in tote to craft the direction of the project. Everyone contributes, gains empathy for the user, gains empathy for each other, and has clear ownership of the team’s direction.

Let’s apply

Now let’s explore how the hill structure could convert Clinton’s murky plan into a hill that we can all understand and get behind.

I think we need to go after a company like Johnson Controls that is trying to avoid paying taxes after all of us bailed it out by pretending to sell itself in a so-called inversion in Europe.

The who is us as tax payers funding the bail outs of large companies. We’re the ones that this hill would be written to help. The what could be a new level of accountability for companies that get assistance from the government. As tax payers, we want to know that our money is not getting into the hands of a failing corporation that continues to fail and operate in a ethically disagreeable fashion. And what is the wow? That really depends on how Clinton plans on going after these corporations. It could be the ability to take that money back. A proposed hill with clear value could look something like this…

I will enforce accountability on bailed out companies, and return bail out money to the tax payer in cases of abuse.

The power of design thinking is that it can be applied to the practice of design, but it can also bring immediate value to the business world, any industry, and even political policy. It’s all about understanding your user, gaining empathy, and finding a guiding light moving forward solving large problems, or micro problems along the way.

Further learning

You can learn about how we tackle problems at IBM through our Design Thinking web resource, or check out this crash course from Stanford. Forbes also has some good thoughts in this article. Please ask any question in the comments section and feel free to get in touch!

I use empathy and good design to help people reach their goals.

I use empathy and good design to help people reach their goals.