"The lack of confidence I see CEOs possess in communicating and facilitating is staggering" – Business Leader

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Issue 37

Business Group
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13th September 2022 12:00 pm
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Story by
James Cook
August 10, 2022
Charles Burdett, Founder of Pip Decks
In our latest exclusive interview, Business Leader chatted to Charles Burdett, the Founder of Pip Decks, a publishing company that creates workshop card decks for entrepreneurs, CEOs and other professionals. Charles told us about his journey to running a company that is now trusted by the BBC, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and other leading companies.
I floundered after completing my Graphic Design degree at university. I planned to do a Masters, but failed to get a loan due to a dodgy credit rating and I had stupidly signed a 12-month rental lease which I couldn’t get out of, so I applied to any job going. Most notably, I was turned down for an in-house design position at a waste management company.
After some stars aligned, I lucked out and started my career as a junior designer at a prestigious Manchester-based digital agency. Being at the forefront of modern digital design practices, and with some great mentors, after a few years, I outgrew agency life and set my sights on working on larger and more impactful projects and joined the BBC as a Senior Designer.
There I grew my facilitation and leadership skills, running workshops and helping teams do their best work. I also started to see how so many talented people lacked confidence. One of the most valuable things I did was support them to run workshops of their own –  a route to developing confidence in their facilitation skills and leadership abilities.
It wasn’t until I left the BBC and started my freelance consulting career that Pip Decks started to take shape. It was in large part born out of necessity. Lots of people I worked with kept asking me how I knew how to run these workshops (especially if it was their first time experiencing one, it can be like a kind of magic – especially if all they know is being sat in soul-destroying meetings their whole career).
So, I sought to create a product that in effect, bottled up my expertise in a concise manner that would help others at scale.
It’s funny – when Pip Decks started, it wasn’t from any desire to create a business or achieve financial freedom or anything like that. It was without any ambition other than to follow my own curiosity.
“What if I put everything I know into a deck of cards?” “What if I made it really easy to find the right card?” “Would people buy this?” “How many people will buy it?” It was an exercise in putting my design skills to the test for my own thing. From branding to usability, marketing, and manufacturing, It was a tonne of fun.
Whilst Pip Decks was gaining momentum, I had a burning desire to start a business. But I didn’t think Pip Decks would be it. I saw it as just a fun side-project that had no future as a global publishing business as it is now.
Whilst Pip Decks was slowly taking off whilst I was consulting, I became focused on thinking about what kind of business I would start. It took a while, but I eventually realised I had created a category-defining product of “business recipe cards”. There was nothing else like it, and marketing it felt effortless. When people saw it, they bought it. The moment came when the income from Pip Decks overtook what I was earning from consulting. Then it became a no-brainer to go all-in on it.
A large part of my role as a senior designer was not being sat all on my own coming up with genius designs. I was only as successful as my ability to get my whole team working and solving problems together.
The repertoire of workshops that I had learned and developed, and the testing ground I had at the BBC and whilst consulting, were instrumental in the creation of Workshop Tactics. It is my expertise distilled down into a repeatable process. A colleague told me when testing out an early version that it was like “Charles in a Box”.
Do you remember those old recipe cards? They’d have a picture of say, a lasagne on the front with the ingredients. And on the back, the steps to make it. There was no backstory. There was no need to hold open a book on the right page. And if you wanted to share the recipe, you didn’t have to lend the whole book.
So, when it came to people asking me the “What, how, when, why” of workshops, the lightbulb moment was turning the workshops into single card recipes that anyone could pick up and run. And it turns out that format is super effective.
The second lightbulb moment came when I realised other people could distil their expertise into the same format. So, the Pip Decks library grew and a publishing business was born!
Workshop facilitation. It’s the heart of all of our decks. The most valuable thing most people can do in their job is to get everyone on the same page, working on a problem together. Rather than differing opinions and never finding common ground. Or, people duplicating work by not talking or sharing what they’re doing. That’s what facilitation does. It is a leadership skill that helps us have conversations we might not otherwise have had.
The second skill that I believe is increasingly important is storytelling. Your ability to create a memorable story is paramount in being an effective communicator.
The difference between struggling to stay awake during a dry presentation laced with facts and figures, versus a story about a dragon and a city – and how the dragon is the changing market and the crumbling city is your business. Which do you think you’re likely to remember and pay attention to?
Even just being aware of the power of story and rejecting filling a PowerPoint with a wall of text, is one vital step to gaining the natural ability we all have to tell great stories.
Change is a certainty. We need to work and communicate better, now more than ever. Companies that have gone fully remote (like Pip Decks!) rely even more on effective communication, especially when you lose the serendipity of hallway conversations or in-person meetings.
Remote meetings take a lot of mental and physical effort. So, the more painless and effective we can make them, the better. Short, facilitated meetings that take advantage of virtual whiteboards are 100x more effective than everyone piling into a Zoom call and talking over each other.
The same is true for how we write emails or present to our colleagues. It’s inconsiderate to bore someone to death or waste people’s time by waffling and not cutting to the chase. Learning how to hook someone’s attention, get to the point quickly, and leave people wanting more is the essence of great communication that becomes even more vital when working remotely.
Facilitation, storytelling and strategy.
Absolutely. The lack of confidence I see Heads of and CEOs possess in communicating and facilitating is staggering. Half the time it’s not that their ability is lacking – it’s that their confidence is. There is a strangely powerful feeling of having knowledge you already possess, in a format that is easy for you to access.
It’s kind of like outsourcing your brain capacity to Google Maps when travelling to somewhere familiar. You know the directions already, but having someone tell you exactly when you need to know frees your brain up to focus on more important things.
This has come from just two products. We’ve now effectively tripled our product range and we’re already seeing our growth trajectory aim higher. There will be a Pip Deck in every office, on every desk of anyone that wants access to distilled expert knowledge.
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