What Is The Minto Pyramid Principle? The Minto Pyramid Principle In A Nutshell

The Minto Pyramid Principle was created by Barbara Minto, who spent twenty years in corporate reporting and writing at McKinsey & Company. The Minto Pyramid Principle is a framework enabling writers to attract the attention of the reader with a simple yet compelling and memorable story.

Understanding the Minto Pyramid Principle

After she left the organization in 1973, Minto began her own consulting business to help business leaders write with conviction. Those lessons combined with her extensive corporate experience were then distilled into the Minto Pyramid Principle.

The principle is based on the premise that an argument is easier to understand – and far more convincing – when it is arranged in a pyramidal hierarchy. At the top of the pyramid sits the most important takeaway message of the piece, which is then followed by layers of evidence that flow in a logical order. Structuring the article in this way allows the reader to absorb a central idea and then be presented with information that supports it.

While the Minto Pyramid Principle is used to attract the attention of time-poor executives, it is arguably more effective as a persuasive communication tool. An entrepreneur may use the pyramid to win over prospective investors, while a leader may use it to communicate with project stakeholders during a proposal. 

The three levels of the Minto Pyramid Principle hierarchy

Three levels comprise the Minto Pyramid Principle. 

The bottom of the pyramid comprises the data and factual information that support arguments. From there, the writer should move through increasingly abstract levels until they arrive at their core message.  

Let’s take a look at each level below, starting at the top.

1 – The answer

The answer is simply a clear, concise, and effective core message that has four components:

  • Situation – good writers set the scene by describing a situation to create a mental picture in the mind of the reader.
  • Complication – what is the factor causing the conflict, problem, or opportunity? These factors should compel the reader to act, or at the very least, continue reading.
  • Question – then, a question is posed to highlight the decision an individual or business must face. The question should extend logically from the complication.
  • Answer – or a recommendation that solves the problem and ensures the story has a happy ending. For businesses, solutions need to be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE).

2 – Supporting arguments

Supporting arguments should then be sorted, grouped, and summarised in a logical way. To facilitate this process, the Minto Pyramid Principle suggests “ideas in writing should always form a pyramid under a single thought.” 

In other words, each supporting argument should resemble a mini-pyramid, complete with its own single thought (answer) and supporting arguments, data, and facts.

As a general rule, each single thought should be backed by three supporting arguments. Ideas at any level in the pyramid must also be summaries of the ideas grouped below them.

3- Supporting data or facts

As the name suggests, the bottom of the pyramid houses the evidence, data, and other findings that validate the supporting arguments. 

Where applicable, it may also be wise to include customer testimonials on this level.

Key takeaways:

  • The Minto Pyramid Principle is a framework enabling writers to attract the attention of the reader with a simple yet compelling and memorable story. It was developed by corporate writing consultant Barbara Minto.
  • The Minto Pyramid Principle is traditionally used to attract the attention of time-poor executives, but it is also useful as a persuasive communication tool.
  • The Minto Pyramid Principle has three levels. At the top of the pyramid is the answer, or a clear and concise core message that answers a question or solves a problem. Two more levels represent supporting arguments and supporting data and facts respectively.

Other Consulting Frameworks

BCG Matrix

In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

Porter’s Five Forces

Porter’s Five Forces is a model that helps organizations to gain a better understanding of their industries and competition. Published for the first time by Professor Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Strategy” in the 1980s. The model breaks down industries and markets by analyzing them through five forces

Six Forces Model

The Six Forces Model is a variation of Porter’s Five Forces. The sixth force, according to this model, is the complementary products. In short, the six forces model is an adaptation especially used in the tech business world to assess the change of the context, based on new market entrants and whether those can play out initially as complementary products and in the long-term substitutes.

Porter’s Value Chain

In his 1985 book Competitive Advantage, Porter explains that a value chain is a collection of processes that a company performs to create value for its consumers. As a result, he asserts that value chain analysis is directly linked to competitive advantage. Porter’s Value Chain Model is a strategic management tool developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter. The tool analyses a company’s value chain – defined as the combination of processes that the company uses to make money.

Porter’s Generic Strategies

According to Michael Porter, a competitive advantage, in a given industry could be pursued in two key ways: low cost (cost leadership), or differentiation. A third generic strategy is focus. According to Porter a failure to do so would end up stuck in the middle scenario, where the company will not retain a long-term competitive advantage.

McKinsey 7s Model

The McKinsey 7-S Model was developed in the late 1970s by Robert Waterman and Thomas Peters, who were consultants at McKinsey & Company. Waterman and Peters created seven key internal elements that inform a business of how well positioned it is to achieve its goals, based on three hard elements and four soft elements.

GE McKinsey Matrix

The GE McKinsey Matrix was developed in the 1970s after General Electric asked its consultant McKinsey to develop a portfolio management model. This matrix is a strategy tool that provides guidance on how a corporation should prioritize its investments among its business units, leading to three possible scenarios: invest, protect, harvest, and divest.

McKinsey Horizon Model

The McKinsey Horizon Model helps a business focus on innovation and growth. The model is a strategy framework divided into three broad categories, otherwise known as horizons. Thus, the framework is sometimes referred to as McKinsey’s Three Horizons of Growth.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees Framework

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

MECE Framework

The MECE framework is an exhaustive expression of information that must account for all conceivable scenarios. While the framework is used in categorizing information and data processing, it is commonly used in formulating problems and then solving them. The MECE framework is a means of the exhaustive grouping of information into categories that are both mutually exclusive (ME) and collectively exhaustive (CE).

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