The one pager is a beautiful tool.
It’s one page. It is something that you are bringing to a persons’ mind. It contains a limited amount of language – around 300 words or less if there is a chart or many bullet points. Most people can read it in around 90 seconds, though, some can do it in 60 seconds. Those are the constraints.
You use tools to achieve goals. We’ll start there, dive into each one, and I’ll conclude with a few experiences.
Three common goals are to persuade, to declare, or to engage.
Persuasion is often about convincing oneself, another, or a group to form a belief.
Declaration is often about sharing or proclaiming a decision, fact, opinion, problem, solution, situation, or belief.
Engagement may be to learn, collect, aggregate, or decide.
Persuasion can either start with yourself or with others. If you understand why you, yourself, are persuaded by a given set of facts, arguments, assessments, assumptions, and beliefs, you could be in a better position to understand why others follow their own chain of inference to their conclusions. It may open you up to engage. That kind of security may help you to be receptive to alternative arguments, assumptions and beliefs. That kind of self-knowledge is like the carbon that’s added to iron. It might seem soft, but when combined with cold fact, it makes the steel that much stronger.
Persuasion can sometimes start with others. You may find yourself having to connect two people, assisting one person to express their position in a way that the other will find persuasive.
Persuasion without belief is trolling. And I suppose the one pager is as good of a tool to troll as any. Great trolling requires solid self-knowledge. That may form part of the boundary of what some would call satire.
You can try using the first draft of a one pager to convince yourself. Once you’re convinced, you can start another draft that is designed to persuade others. You can gradually select the words or rally facts that are far more likely to generate pleasant waves in consciousness.
Just as letters have a fonts, a way they are shaped to cause a desired effect, so do words. Even though the words tradeoff, dilemma, dialectic, and contradiction all roughly mean the same thing (they’d reduce to roughly a similar vector), the shape of each word causes different people to respond differently.
For instance, the use of the word dialectic may resonate very well with people have nostalgia for several turbulent eras, and it may alienate people who do not, and it may confuse others. The word tradeoff may trigger feelings of anger in a person who have perceived the word as weaponized from their past. Their memory of their experiences is what gives these words their shapes, and evoke different responses accordingly.
You get 300 words in a one-pager, a figure that feels both narrow and overwhelming, depending on your perspective.
Not all declarations seem designed to persuade. A declaration may instead rely on a power signal. This abuts up upon the relationship between power and consent.
The degree to which consent must be secured through persuasion could be a function of power. Maybe there’s a perception that power is eternal, as through once the electrons in iron are all aligned that the magnetic force is permanent. Maybe there’s a perception that power must be continuously renewed, and the use of persuasion is a way to replenish it. Your perception may inform how deliberate you are in structuring your one-pager in a way that is designed to purely declare or persuade.
At an extreme, a dictator can make outlandish claims, that they themselves know are a lie, and the people watching them know they’re lying, as a pure demonstration of power. “Look at my power — I can lie to you and you have to cheer me on.” The goal of such declarations seems to be simply a lavish demonstration of power.
As humans, we all have the innate right, the power, to make declarations. We are not automatically granted the right to be believed or the right to force others to believe. We may be granted, with the consent of others, the opportunity to persuade.
As individuals, we form organizations that moderate the associated power attached to those declarations. Some of those organizations have checks and balances to moderate power. Some of them pull all power into the very top and rely on the superior judgement of superiors to act expeditiously. Others deliberately organize power in a such a way to maximize some objective, some dependent variable, over some time span. Others are less deliberate. A tremendous amount of social technology goes into setting and tuning mandate levels. In Western liberal societies, we have the individual power to consent or withdraw our consent to be subjects. It may take us longer to get the gears to lock, but once they do, look out!
A one pager may serve as a proclamation of a decision. “Here-yay, Here-yay, Here-yay, I doth declare that the register button shall be red, #9E1A1A.”
A one pager may be used to make another form of proclamation. “Hey, look over here, there’s a problem over here, and it is worth a solution it because of reasons.” You can swap the words problem and solution and the sentence still means the same thing. Your response to that declaration would be interesting to note. Indeed, you could substitute the word problem and solution for any of belief, opinion, situation, fact, and opinion and it would still mean roughly the same thing.
The one-pager is a fantastic tool for engagement.
Inviting a group of people to collaborate on the construction of a one-pager may generate a feeling of excitement – that we’re going to work on something together, under the (narrow constraint or divergent freedom) of 300 glorious words.
It’s a way to collect perspective and language from a set of people that has more degrees of freedom than a narrow survey, but that is not so wide as a full blown Garbage Can.
It provides a definitive end-point in which consensus may emerge in the end.
It can be a fantastic way to learn from one another, including, the way that people construct their mental models of the world, and how they forget their construct.
Engaging in such could be way slower than pure declaration and pure persuasion. Indeed, the act of engagement itself can be persuasive.
One-pagers are great tools. They don’t even come close to powerpoint as a communication vehicle. They’re accessible. They’re brief. They get the job done efficiently because they reduce the surface area for discourse to the most important area. You don’t need to engage debating about what colours or photos to use for the powerpoint, or if the kerning on the letter T looks off to you. You know when the one-pager is going to be over because you can see the bottom of the page right there. The whole one-pager is basically a progress bar. They’re easier to machine translate into other languages. They’re about as close to pure linguistic content as you can get. They’re very flexible.
I have experienced divergent thinkers chafing at the artificial, imposed, constraint. The longer an engagement goes on, the odds that the divergent thinker declares that 300 words is not enough to capture all of these ideas approaches 1. Sometimes they can achieve focus. Sometimes they can’t. Be open. Be patient. Constraints aren’t fun, yet essential. Sometimes it takes time to organize the feelings before facts can be organized.
If the audience for the one-pager are executor type thinkers, leading with the decision and enumerating the justification beneath it works very well.
If the audience are convergent thinkers, leading with a traditional story format of why, who, what, where, how, and when works well. It can provide the kind of logical certainty that a convergent thinker finds comfortable.
If the audience are divergent thinkers, leading with what, then what is changing, and why it matters, works especially well.
If the audience are connectors, a tremendous amount of mileage can be gained with sourcing prior art. You can acknowledging it with tiny font at the bottom of the one-pager. Meeting connectors where they’re most comfortable and talking through the ripples can open vistas into the present.
Many audiences are heterogenous, made of up of a mix of those types. And other types of people. Aside from including footnotes and citing who participated in the creation of the one-pager, the style of the body changes.
A lot can happen to your mind in 60 to 90 seconds.
A one-pager holds the promise that a lot can change in it.
Isn’t that useful and beautiful?
 The book The Hard Thing About Hard Things contains quite long passages about how a given leader thought during a crisis.