Art and business consulting seem to be too far away from each other to build connection. But there still lies something in proximity. The monochrome gray scale adopted in artworks can be equally applied to storytelling among management consultants, recalling the question: How to be impressive, visually and logically? 

Behind the bulletproof glass at the Louvre Museum sits the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci’s famed Mona Lisa, a portrait of a woman with her arms folded peacefully and naturally. Her gaze lands on to whoever might watch her from different angles. It gives an impression that she is alive and communicating with you tranquilly. Leonardo achieved this effect thanks to the usage of soft blending of silhouettes and the three-dimensional painting technique in dealing with light and shadows, that is “black, white and grey”


Another portrait nicknamed the “Mona Lisa of the North”, following the same pattern, comes to a 17th-century artwork by a Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring. Simply painted with a portrait and an obscure background, the girl turning backwards over the shoulders with plump lips half-opened, presents a sense of intimacy and liveliness. As the name goes, a Girl with a Pearl Earring, the light of the pearl earring decorates the dark canvas and the soft light on her face shows a slice of exotic effect of a beauty. The contrast of darkness and light creates an outlet of dimensions and animation. Again, the greatness of an artwork is based on the permeation of scales of monochrome gray.

To reach a high level of visual impression, three-dimensional effects leveraging changes of “black, white and grey” are the keys. Suppose we dissect the artworks into colorful pieces, it is for sure that layers as “black, white and grey” will be the tiniest components. Similarly, there is a close correspondence with the beauties of business consulting, in particular of a compelling story with a thought-provoking logical structure.

How to catch the attention of the audience within seconds? How to present a three-dimensional and “stereoscopic masterpiece” of deliverables to the clients?

The Pyramid Principle, developed by Barbara Minto, is the key to resolve the problems. In parallel with monochrome gray scales, the principles of pyramid logical structure are based on the categorization of information and contents. Essentially, there are two steps to follow:

First of all, what are the messages to be crafted? To grasp the attention of the listeners is one of the preliminary goals. Afterwards, to maintain the constant attention, that is, to sell your message in order to guide the clients throughout the presentation is another issue. In order to achieve this target, it is suggested to bear in mind three facts:

  • First, people lose attention when they already know what you are saying;
  • Second, the discovering of the unknown is a practice along the presentation among the listeners;
  • Third, as soon as a question mark pops out of the mind, it raises questions to the messages you are sending.

Therefore, to construct a chain of question-and-answer is more likely to be an efficient tool to reach a qualified presentation and communication.

Secondly, how to structure the storyline? Having grasped the elements of key messages, we are getting near to establish a good story. In this sense, the requirement comes to the “ordering”, that is, to put the right items into their most appropriate position, ensuring the alignment of logics and rationale. Pyramid Principles proposes two solutions: vertical logic and horizontal logic.

In regards with vertical logic, the story is developed based on a question-answer dialogue. Let’s take Johannes Vermeer’s painting as an example:

Key message: Girl with a Pearl Earring is a great masterpiece. (Why?)

Development of statements: 3 supportive arguments

  • The portrait of the girl is pensive and delightful. (How?)
    • The contrast of darkness and light, e.g. lips, skin, and background
    • The contrast of blue and yellow or turban
  • The meaning of the portrait is profound. (What?)
    • “It seems that the message of the painting derives from ideas expressed by the mystic St Francis De Sales (1567-1622) in the Introduction to the Devout Life (1608), published in Holland in 1616. In a nutshell, De Sales wrote that women should protect their ears from unclean words, and that they should allow them to hear only chaste words – the “oriental pearls of the gospel.” Using this text as a reference, it seems that the pearl earring in Vermeer’s painting represents chastity, while the “oriental” element mentioned is illustrated by the girl’s turban. (For a painting promoting virtue and industry, see The Lacemaker (c.1669, Louvre, Paris.)”*
  • Vermeer’s painting methods possibly based on Camera Obscura is a great application of “technology”. (How?)
    • Vermeer used lens and mirror contraption to draw paintings…

On the other hand, horizontal logic can be conducted in two approaches: deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning.

  • Deductive reasoning can be simplified as: A to B, B to C, C to D.
  • Inductive reason can be organized as:
    • Black/Layer I: Topic sentence
    • Grey/Layer II: Supportive arguments A, B, C, and D.
    • White/Layer III: A (A1, A2,..), B (B1, B2, …), …and D (D1, D2,…)

In retrospect, the connection between artwork and consulting’s deliverables is simple to be synthesized into three aspects:

In the first place, both of them require a master of structure, that is, to see the big picture before going into details. The composition of the canvas and the blueprint of the storyline should start from certain logics.

Secondly, both of them are based on “black, white and grey”, i.e. the prioritization of messages and components. In paintings, with the help of scale of monochrome gray, we can feel the contrast of darkness and light, the distance and space of objects and humans and etc. In consulting storyboard, the adoption of “black, white and grey” helps categorize and prioritize issues and reformulate the messages in a more efficient and acceptable manner.

Finally, both of them make complex stuff simple and the other way around, resulting into a common goal—to maximize the effects of the audience and spectators. In a word, the leverage of “black, white and grey” tool in art and consulting work creates great works, even in totally different domains.




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