Clarity, consistency and the probability yardstick

George Oliver

Mar 25


min read

Business strategy draws heavily on the foundations of military strategy.

You only need to think of the frequency of references to Sun Tzu or von Clausewitz on LinkedIn or at business schools to recognise the transfer of OST from battlefield to boardroom.

Why? It’s because leaders in both value the need for clear objectives and the agility to adapt to changing circumstances.

They must understand the competitive landscape, and focus on implementing the most effective tactics under strategic pillars focussed on core objectives.

This manifests itself in familiar ways: plans, charts, KPIs, benchmarks, and measures. It means allocation of resources, efficiency in deployment, logistics and supply, and setting goals.

It also means clarity of communication.

The value of clear communication

With audience attention ever harder to gain and retain, it becomes increasingly important to communicate in a way that is both clear and concise.

This matters a great deal - as we see in Hall’s classic Encoding/Decoding model - in the context of a noisy and distracting environment. 

The average office worker, for example, receives 121 emails daily. In the 1970s, the average person saw between 500 to 1,600 adverts per day. By 2021 it was estimated to be up to 10,000.

Whether you're sending an email, briefing a journalist, or delivering a presentation, the way you communicate your message is the difference in whether or not you achieve your goal.

Clarity and consistency in written business communications, for example: 

  • Saves time in enabling your message to be read, understood and acted upon quickly.
  • Builds trust between sender and receiver by increasing understanding and confidence.
  • Reduces cost through errors stemming from misunderstandings because of vague or convoluted language.
  • Fosters engagement because people are invariably social and engage more with people that they find easy to understand and relate to.
  • Helps achieve goals in achieving all of the above we are likely to be more persuasive, therefore winning support for our ideas.

Matching language to probability

So what about when language becomes about describing what is happening on an actual battlefield?

I got to thinking about this when I saw this post from the Ministry of Defence on Twitter.

The post introduces the Defence Intelligence Probability Yardstick (DIPY) - the tool used by military and intelligence agencies to assess the likelihood of events or scenarios occurring. 

This yardstick is based on concepts of probability and likelihood, and is used to help decision-makers to evaluate risk associated with a given situation, as well as to develop and implement effective strategies to mitigate that risk.

It was first developed in the early 2000s to be a graphical representation of factors that influence the likelihood of an event or scenario occurring. It provides a visual representation of the probability of a given event.

This allows decision-makers to use percentages to explain something that has happened (insight), or to predict what might happen next (foresight).

As a communications professional, what I found interesting is how it maps standardised language against those percentages.

It’s a brand protocol for risk, using a centrally-agreed template to relay information to both internal and external audiences. 

This breaks complex data and an uncertain situation down into something clear, consistent, and concise.

It also works for audience segments who prefer to receive information in numbers and those who favour words.

In doing so, it equips its audience with the tools they need to understand and make informed choices and the information they need to act upon it.

There's a whole further post to be written about how the MoD uses effective visuals and layout to present the information.

But the Defence Intelligence Probability Yardstick ensures that the content itself is clear, concise, and consistent.

And surely that is the fundamental purpose of any communication?

Our monthly newsletter updates you on

• Small business PR tips
• Regional media updates
• Local innovation & funding

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

By signing up, you agreeing to receive email marketing communications from 1284.

The Chartered Management Institute LogoThe Chartered Institute of Public Relations LogoCyber Essentials Certified LogoFSB Logo