Where does Aristotle come into things?

Aristotle is the beginning …

Great thinking never goes out of date: some of the ideas of Aristotle, the legendary thinker who lived 2,300 years ago in ancient Greece, are still relevant today.

Aristotle's book, Poetics, describes the structural elements that introduce great communication: simple “tragic” poetry and more complex or “epic” poetry. While we wouldn't normally describe today's business communication as poetry, much less tragic, the structural elements still ring true, and when used effectively they offer the reader the opportunity to quickly grasp what a writer is trying to say.

In particular, Aristotle offers three key insights that we can use to prepare powerful business communication today:

  1. Make sure you introduce the situation, or the context as we call it, so that the story both begins at the right place and introduces sufficient information for your reader to know what the piece of communication is about.
  2. Follow the situation with a description of the complication, or the thing that has changed that describes the purpose of your story. We call this the trigger, since complication seems to be an unnecessarily long and negative word, and doesn't truly capture what needs to follow the situation (context) in today's business communication.
  3. Focus each story around one single issue, or as we say, answer a single question. Aristotle thought that epic or multi-issue, multi-element narratives were better. In his time that was probably true when targeting intelligent audiences with plenty of time to enjoy and analyse the presentation. Today's business people, however, are not seeking mystery and intrigue when reading business communication: they want useful and relevant information that they can digest quickly, which is much more akin to Aristotle's tragic, single issue approach.

When you combine these structural elements with Aristotle's understanding of logic, or analytics as he calls it, and adapt these to today's mind mapping techniques and software abilities you have a powerful tool for communicating complex ideas simply in today's world.