Waffles are a great metaphor for the kind of information employees need—not facts, but rich description


We’re trying to counsel a client who wants to include every blessed detail about a certain program in a communication piece we’re creating.

Her thinking goes like this: “Unless we tell employees everything about Program A, they won’t have the information they need to understand it.”

The problem, of course, is that including all the details makes the communication so heavy and unappealing that employees are likely to avoid the whole thing. And, although Davis & Company’s designers are really good at what they do, there’s no way to “pretty up” a messy closet enough to make it look neat.

In talking about this situation with my colleagues, I realized something important: Details (facts/information included just to be “complete”) do not create understanding.

Specifics, on the other hand—rich description that brings an issue to life—are valuable because they illustrate and illuminate.

To explain, let’s use a metaphor. Let’s say you wanted to teach a friend (we’ll call him Rob) make waffles for breakfast. Because you confuse details with knowledge, you say, “For Rob to truly understand waffles, he needs all the facts.”

So you send him a communication that includes a bunch of stuff: “The word ‘waffle’ is from the Dutch, meaning ‘wafer.’ In the late 1800’s, Thomas Jefferson returned from France with a waffle iron. August 24 is National Waffle Day. Eggo, a brand of frozen waffles, was introduced in 1953. Several varieties are available, including homestyle, blueberry, strawberry, apple cinnamon, buttermilk and chocolate chip. The Waffle House chain has sold more than 500 million waffles since it was founded in the mid 1950s.”

Rob may be dazzled by your knowledge (or Google-ing ability), but he’s no closer to making waffles than when he started.

If, on the other hand, you provide Rob with specifics, you set him up for success. In cooking, those specifics are known as a recipe:

First, of course, you provide the exact ingredients: flour, milk, oil, eggs, etc.

Then you share the instructions, which go like this:

  • Preheat waffle iron. Beat eggs in large bowl with hand beater until fluffy. Beat in flour, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla, just until smooth.
  • Spray preheated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mix onto hot waffle iron. Cook until golden brown. Serve hot.

If Rob knows nothing about cooking, you may be even more specific, explaining how to crack and beat eggs, measure dry ingredients, pour the mixture, etc.

Get the picture? It’s our role in communication to clearly (and simply) explain things to employees, so they know what to do. It’s not about trying to make employees experts, but giving them just what they need.

Anybody hungry for a nice hot waffle?

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