No Numbers!

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated April 2, 2019

"Nathanael, no numbers!"

It was my first year in business school, early in the first semester. I was so excited about my newfound Excel and math skills. In every class discussion, I tried to present my numbers and an innovative formula. In every class. In every answer.

The fixation with numbers and formulas was not limited to me. Thirty people launching numeric missiles into the discussion confused things beyond all reason.

Mercifully, our teachers equipped us with a key tool.

Acton taught us sound mathematics and well-structured arguments. But far more important were the rules of discussion we learned to live by. This included interrupting anyone, at any time, to enforce the agreed upon rules. Thus, 'no numbers.'

We were too new with numbers to get them right, much less communicate them clearly and thus contribute to the class discussions. So we established the no numbers rule. Why? The evidence of numbers disguised the logic of our arguments.

We were trying to communicate facts and logic, but talking numbers wasn't communication. Stripping numbers out helped us expose our logic, and that's what drove discussions forward.

What's your corollary to the no numbers rule?

Debaters: your numbers could be evidence cards.  Can you talk through your whole argument without quoting a source? Revise your planned speeches and present them without reading any cards.

This exercise will reveal a lot about your ability to think and talk clearly. What is your case's underlying logic? Is it sound? What cards need to be stated to make the case?

Technologists: your numbers could be code. Are you talking about what you will script or what your scripts will do? Whose perspective should you approach a presentation from?

Talking to your non-C++ managers is different from talking to your programming gurus.

What are your numbers? How would stripping them from your talk make your communication better?

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