Firstly a disclaimer: the original title of this article was going to be “The hierarchy of understanding: harnessing it and simplifying it as it applies to ideas and communication within organisational culture.” (catchy — yes?).
However I wanted people to actually read it.
But really, the hierarchy of understanding is a truly simple concept that can change the way you communicate (and understand your communication) with clients and customers, but more importantly with your team.
It was a few months ago when I came across the hierarchy of understanding concept — I was deep into Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ books and through his complementary podcast this concept was introduced in the following way:
“Imagine I just told you a joke — in the first instance you may hear it, but may not laugh. You understand it.
In the second instance you may hear it — and laugh. You get the joke.
But in the ideal instance, you hear the joke, get it — and you go and tell it to somebody else.”
This is getting it — to give it and it is the cornerstone to meaningful discussions, idea sharing and communication.
The hierarchy of understanding helps us gain a greater understanding of conversations and shows us the opportunities not just to get it (so that we can implement an idea successfully ourselves) but the chance give it too, so others can understand, adopt and use those ideas to truly change the world.
More recently this concept was reinforced to me through the idea of teaching and learning — ‘Learn something so well that you can teach it to others, and teach it so that others may learn.’
In my world, this means spending time truly understanding as much as I can about my clients and their products and services, their uniqueness, their ‘why’, their mission — so that I can take that information and spread it effectively across different marketing channels to educate their customers. Without truly ‘getting it’, I don’t believe I can perform my job effectively.
In your world this may be the process of guaranteeing your team can communicate and implement tasks and ideas effectively. Can you articulate an idea to someone in such a way that they can take that idea and teach it to somebody else, who can teach it to somebody else, and so forth.
“Leaders are inherently biased to presume that everyone in the group sees things as they do, when in fact they don’t.” (Daniel Coyle)
Gaps in your organisational communication and understanding may not just be impacting productivity and priorities, they may be holding your team back from aligning with your mission and values — simply because their level of understanding is not at the same level as yours.
We receive and communicate information at more of a rapid pace than ever, and with the channels available now for effective communication proliferating at such a fast pace, the risk of transmitting information that only ever reaches the ‘understanding’ level of communication is extremely high.
So does the responsibility of getting it to give it fall on the information relayer, or the information receiver?
Certainly it is up to both parties to understand the importance of communicating and transmitting ideas effectively — we give and receive countless pieces of information multiple times a day- so the practice of ensuring we all achieve a ‘get it to give it’ level of understanding is really important.
But you, right now, reading this article, have hopefully now been blessed with a ‘get it to give it’ level of understanding about the Hierarchy of Understanding so I trust the mission upon you to teach others and start challenging the channels and methods of communicating important ideas.
To your success.