Ask a six-year-old

They’ll give you honest feedback

By Allon Raiz

Things were looking up after a few tough months, and I had recently been offered an unexpected and extremely exciting business opportunity.

I arrived at the restaurant for my monthly catch-up session with my mentor, and sat fidgeting while waiting for him to arrive. I couldn’t wait to tell him about the big deal that had come my way. By this stage of my journey as an entrepreneur, I’d learned the importance of getting different perspectives, and I was curious to hear what he would say about this new business opportunity.

After we’d ordered breakfast, I enthusiastically started telling him all about my new business opportunity, and how it had come about. He listened carefully, not showing any emotion (either approving or disapproving of it) and when I’d finished he said: “The explanation you’ve just given me is too complex. You’re not articulating what you want to do simply enough.”

How could he say it was too complex? It seemed straightforward to me. I repeated my explanation of the opportunity and watched his reaction. He shook his head and said: “It’s still not simple enough.” By then my frustration level became evident.

Ask a 6 year old

My mentor looked around the restaurant and his eyes settled on the table next to us, where a mother and her six-year-old daughter were busy enjoying a tiramisu desert that had just arrived. He leaned over to the mother, and asked her politely: “Excuse me, ma’am, would you mind if we troubled you? I’d like my friend to briefly explain something to your daughter.” After a long and seemingly awkward moment, the mother accepted his request while watching us both suspiciously.

He turned to me and said: “I want you to explain to this young girl what your new business opportunity is.” I wasn’t sure why I needed to explain it to a six year old, but decided to humour him.

I greeted the young girl and briefly told her about my new business opportunity. My mentor then asked her to relay my story and, when she did, she provided a completely inaccurate interpretation of what I had just told her. After listening to her response, my mentor asked me to once again tell the young girl about my new business opportunity, but this time in simpler terms, making sure I explained clearly what I’d be doing and why I’d be doing it.

Only after the third attempt at telling her my story – in uncomplicated terms – did the young girl finally understand my new business opportunity. We thanked her and her mom for accommodating our request, and let them get back to their dessert.

Rule of thumb

Very often, in our heads we “complexify” what we do by using big, trendy words like “best practice” or “best of bread” or “most innovative” to explain what our business or product is all about.

The rule of thumb is that if you can’t articulate what you do, in as few words as possible, so that a six year old is able to understand then you don’t have a clear idea of what you are doing.

Ensure that you provide the context of your business or product and then, when you see the audience comprehends your explanation, move to the next level. By simplifying your explanation, you create a far better understanding of the context of what you do and why you do what you do.

This will prove invaluable when you are meeting new people at networking events or pitching to potential clients.

Ask yourself

The secret to shifting your mind-set and therefore your business is asking yourself the following questions and answering them honestly:

  1. Would a six-year-old child understand my explanation of what I do?
  2. How could I further simplify the explanation of what I do?