Chekhov's Gun

Helping your clients make sense of their story.

If you're familiar with the works of Anton Chekhov, you know that he was a master of the short story. In particular, he was known for his use of the "Chekhov's Gun" principle - the idea that every element in a story should be necessary, and that anything superfluous should be cut out:

"One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."

We can also find this variation of the principle:

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

Can you see how this applies to consulting work as well?

When delivering advice to clients, the best consultants I know make sure that every element is essential and that anything unnecessary is left out. You don't need to share statistics, best practices, or frameworks with them if they are irrelevant to what you're trying to achieve. Doing so is counterproductive.

Your goal, in addition to helping your clients change and make difficult decisions, is to provide clarity. Overloading them with information has the opposite effect:

  • Instead of presenting them an endless list of KPIs and benchmarks, help them identify the 1-3 indicators that will best reflect your real progress.
  • Instead of sharing all your services at once like a restaurant menu, diagnose clients and present the few solutions that fit their needs and requirements.
  • Instead of sharing a link to your blog, curate the content and insights you share with them to ensure it's timely and relevant.

All of these reduce decision fatigue and improve your client's experience. It's helpful to remember your clients are just like you: busy, indecisive, and swimming in a sea of irrelevant information.

To improve your story, eliminate the noise and keep the signal.

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