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The MECE Framework: How to Think and Persuade

When you’re constructing an email, blog post, or other content for your business, how do you structure it? Do you sit in front of a computer screen and allow your words to flow in a seemingly endless stream of consciousness? Or do you strategically plot out each section of text to create a complete thought?

The Challenge for a Successful Business

Many people will cringingly admit that they wish their writing skills were stronger. As we know, strong content can help drive your business, persuading site visitors to become lifelong customers while entertaining and informing them. Your content makes you look like the trusted expert you need to be to run a successful business.

But how can you do it better?

Some experts recommend the MECE framework. By sharing information that is “Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive”, you can not only persuade, but problem solve, communicate, and consult. 

An Introduction to MECE

The concept of MECE was invented by Barbara Minto, a consultant at the global firm McKinsey and Company in the 1960s and 1970s.

Minto was the first female MBA hired by McKinsey, and went on to publish the book “The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking”. In this book, she notes that ideas in writing should always form a pyramid under a single thought, which feeds directly into the later concept of MECE.

A framework of ideas based on being mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive achieves many things.

what is the mece framework?

It is logical, with no gaps in process or oversights in application. Just as gaps are avoided, there are no overlaps in thought, either.

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MECE Concepts

The term “mutually exclusive” indicates that the items addressed are all specific, different entities. “Collectively exhaustive” means that there are no omissions, or data conveniently passed over because it doesn’t fit in the writing.

The concept can be a little challenging to grasp at first, but one very good and popular example is your weekly grocery list.

Most people write their grocery lists as they think of what they need, usually as the need arises. Milk, bread, lunch meat, lettuce, tomato, bagels, cream cheese, oranges, and fish, for example. This isn’t a bad list; in fact, it’s exactly what you need for the week.

But what if we arranged the list using the principles of MECE:

Dairy: Milk, cream cheese

Meat counter: Lunch meat, fish

Bakery: Bread, Bagels

Produce section: Lettuce, tomato, oranges

This list is mutually exclusive, as there is no overlap between the groupings. It is collectively exhaustive because it includes all of the original list items: nothing is missing. 

The process of turning disorganized details into categories that provide a high level summary of the contents is known as “synthesis”.

How Can the MECE Framework Help You?

Content isn’t great unless it’s memorable. Which of the following lists do you find more memorable?

List 1: 

Milk, bread, lunch meat, lettuce, tomato, bagels, cream cheese, oranges, and fish

List 2: 

Dairy: Milk, cream cheese

Meat counter: Lunch meat, fish

Bakery: Bread, Bagels

Produce section: Lettuce, tomato, oranges

The first list is comprehensive, but the second provides a more memorable and convenient experience. It is organized as “issue trees”, which are a type of visual decision making map.

This type of organization helps not only you, as the writer, convey what you truly want to say, but helps the reader comprehend it, as well.

Let’s consider MECE from the point of view of the reader. If they read an article that’s organized in a stream-of-consciousness format, like the first list, they’ll get the general idea of the article, but they may miss some of the finer points.

An article organized like the second list provides more structure. Readers might not remember details, but they will remember the main points.

Furthermore, when they refer back to the article, they’ll know exactly where to find the key details, based on the organization of the main points.

How the MECE Framework Guides Persuasion and Problem-Solving

You are a business owner, wrapped up in a hectic, ever-changing landscape of issues and challenges. You hire a consultant to watch your business flow, and recommend operational changes.

how mece guides persuasion and problem solving

Do you want them to present their findings in a presentation structured like List 1, or List 2? 

Presenting problem-solving strategies in the “mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive” format ensures that topics are presented clearly and strategically. There are no gaps or overlaps in information. The picture is clear: Here are the main categories for development, with suggestions and ideas as subheadings below that.

You may have already done some categorization similar to MECE when forming your business. You might have started with the idea “I want to start a business”.

Then you considered income versus costs. Both “income” and “costs” could be considered issue trees that branch off of your business concept.

I want to start a Business:
Incomes: ...
Costs: ...
Contacts: ...
Documents: ...

And below each of those were the various cost commitments and income generation ideas. Once you reached the point where your ideas started to overlap, you realized you had a full plan right in front of you, thanks to MECE.

Why It Works?

Because MECE addresses each point of the process, considers each idea in the brainstorming process, and organizes all of that content into simplified categories, it streamlines how the brain receives and processes the content.

brainstorming

It’s much easier to understand a problem and its potential solution if you can look at it point-by-point, rather than zig-zagging and meandering from one point of view to another.

Of course, using the MECE framework doesn’t exclude your brand voice, and you can still lace your content with short and long-tail keywords so your content continues to rank.

In fact, with a little practice, your readers won’t even know anything has changed. They’ll simply feel that something about your content is more cohesive and point-driven.

They may not agree with or relate to each point you make, but they’ll see a compelling argument in the orderly facts you have laid out in front of them.

Ready To Implement The MECE Framework?

Applying this process will require a little practice, especially if you’ve spent many years allowing the stream-of-consciousness to run your blog. Start by writing out the subject of your article or communication. Think about the most important points you want to make. Then consider the facts that demonstrate those points. 

It’s almost more mathematical or scientific than artistic or creative, but MECE can certainly get the point across, helping you think more clearly and persuade more audience members with your deliberate words.

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