The Iceberg Theory: What Vs. How

The Iceberg Theory: What Vs. How

It was 9:30 on a Monday night in Santa Monica. My brain was frazzled after meetings with nine individuals. The next person in line was a well-dressed ginger-haired gentleman with a bright smile, red beard, and the air of either confidence or arrogance. I couldn’t tell.

Being a ginger myself, I welcomed him into the booth and introduced myself, mustering all of the cheer that I could afford.

“Fellow ginger, it’s great to meet you. Let’s get started. What is the problem that you are solving?”

He began, “We are about to embark on a massive transition from cable to cable cutters. I’m launching a new way for people to access digital media like never before. This is going to make lots of money. Investors will flock to this product. Think of it as a live streaming TV system that blah, blah, blah . . . I have my website up, we are ready to launch, and we are going launch to the entire United States, because people are sick of cable companies having all of the control. Blah, blah, blah . . .” He rambled on.

I was lost after the fourth sentence. When he finished and waited for my reply, I sat on my chair, stumped. I was utterly confused, feeling as if he verbally threw up all over me.

He grinned from ear to ear, having just unleashed what he thought was the perfect pitch. When I didn’t give a reply, he kept going, talking about monetization, investors, website, on and on.

I finally muttered, “I have no idea what the hell you are talking about,”

He took a deep breath, preparing to say it all over again. I stopped him with a gentle motion of a hand.

“Help me understand what you do without telling me how you do it,” I said. “Tell me what you do in one sentence.”

Mr. Ginger’s smile melted into a look of concern and concentration. He began, then hesitated, took another breath, and finally said, “I don’t understand.”

“Well, at least we are now on the same page,” I said. “I don’t understand what you were explaining to me for the last five minutes.”

99% of the time, people will ask entrepreneurs what they do, and 99% of time entrepreneurs will say how they do what they do instead. When you answer a “what” question with a “how” answer, you run the risk of confusing your audience right out of the gate.

There is value in answering a “what” question with a “what” answer. My concept, called the “Iceberg Theory,” helps to prevent confusion when sharing your idea for the first time.

It is important to share what you do first before getting into the details of how you do what you do. There is a huge difference between the words “what” and “how.” “What” begins at the surface level, and usually describes things in a general sense. Think of “what” as the very tip of the iceberg that you see above the water’s surface.

“How” describes the process of something or the underlying steps and actions that are done to get results. Think of this as the iceberg below the surface, which is much larger. It contains specific details on your product or services, but remains unseen to the naked eye.

At the surface level, you should be able to explain what you do in one sentence. You should have a clear understanding of how your business operates and be able to reference the individual points that are relevant to the customers. Simply telling people what you do instead of getting into the details of how you do it has more potential to spark a conversation. Because you haven’t given them all of the information, they will naturally want to know more. They’ll soon be asking you questions such as “How does that work?” or “How do you do what you do?”

At that point, you can deliver relevant elements of how your business works. Don’t be afraid to give less information initially. This enables you to create connections between the problem you’ve already mentioned and the solutions. As you continue to have a dialogue, you can add the “how” information so that your audience is able to connect the dots of your problem and how your solution works.

Remember, the most difficult task requires you to get your idea into someone’s head. If you spill all of the beans out of the gate, there will be less to discuss and less for your audience to learn. Have them start at the tip of the iceberg, and let them discover everything else beneath the surface.

The more you talk, the less people will listen. The less you talk, the more people will ask questions. Telling people what you do, and not how you do it, is a good way to say less and have people listen more. They will be interested in listening to your answers to their questions.

#icebergtheory #313book #lessismore

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