Enlightened Conflict

the oversimplification crisis

September 11th, 2017

 

occam economy choice simplify

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We miss out on the value of the message itself as a vehicle for driving virality.”

 

Jonah Berger

 

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“Say something meaningful in an interesting way.”

 

Bruce McTague

<author of “the shortest business book ever written”>

 

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So.

 

 

oversimplification wrongThis is about how we have a simplification crisis.

 

 

Ok.

This is about how we have an oversimplification crisis.

 

This crisis is making us … well … stupid.

 

 

Ok.

This crisis is making us stupider.

 

 

Look.

 

What I mean is that in a world in which we know that everything is complex, and more often than not, more complex than our own pea like brains can handle, we unerringly swerve toward simplistic headline conclusions and oversimplifications and absurd bullet point conclusions.

 

This surface skating intellectualism just makes us stupider.

 

Now.oversimplify assumption risk life business

 

We may convince ourselves we do this simply as a mental survival technique but I would argue, and I do, that it actually is the opposite of a survival technique … it is destructive behavior. It is destructive in that it destroys the overall thinking of what is actually a population quite capable of being intelligent, if not intellectual.

Yeah.

It makes us stupider.

 

I thought about this the other day because I have conversations with some incredibly smart and talented people who know a shitload more about more things than I could ever imagine and this topic came up. I note the smartness of these people to highlight how unusual it is that I can say something that actually can make a group of these people stop, be silent and then go “hmmmmmmmmmm.”

It is a rare thing.

 

And, yet, it happened the other day.

 

After some extensive conversation on North Korea, global trade challenges, Trump <of course> & foreign policy we opened the discussion to “what is the biggest challenge facing us …”

 

My thought drew some <thoughtful> silence.

 

I said “oversimplification.”

 

To me … oversimplification misleads and creates bad decisions and, worse, creates bad thinking <which leads to bad opinions, attitudes and thoughts>.

 

And I offered a couple reasons why I believe this is happening <I did this because if you can identify the issues you can find solutions>:

 

 

We have convinced ourselves we do not have time for complex

 

 

big fat waste of my time business show for itGoing back to the ‘destructive behavior’ thought I shared earlier …  oversimplification is anything but efficient. It actually demands more time in a variety of ways. The two simplest ways it does so is <1> the time we over invest attempting to isolate the simplest version of what is anything but simple and <2> the amount of time & energy we have to invest explain everything beyond the simplistic tripe initially offered, to thwart misguided behavior & reactions to the oversimplified offering & to redefine the oversimplification into bifurcated parts of the oversimplified whole.

 

We do this destructive behavior because we have convinced ourselves that we all have shorter, and shortened, attention spans.

We do this destructive behavior because we have convinced ourselves that people best retain “one thing.”

We do this destructive behavior because we have convinced ourselves in our perceived “never enough time” world we have to topline everything <to fit everything in>.

We do this destructive behavior because we have convinced ourselves that in a blizzard of nonstop things constantly vying for our attention the only way to capture someone’s attention is in some pithy soundbite.

 

Basically we have convinced ourselves that hollowing out an idea and a thought actually benefits not only the idea and the thought … but us!

 

This is fucking nuts. Absolutely crazy.

 

Unfortunately, and truthfully, some things are just too complex to communicate in a sound bite or in 3 seconds or less.

 

No matter how brief and simple you want to make it … well … it is neither brief nor simple. It is complex and sometimes the opposite of brief.

 

It isn’t just about telling a story.

 

Nor is it just about finding influencers to broker the story.

 

Nor is it just about practical value.

 

Nor is it just about emotion.

 

Unfortunately it is a combination of those things. Yeah. Effective communication is … uhm … complex.

 

 

We have convinced ourselves that simple & simplicity is reflective of common sense.

 

 

time to do it right do it overI admit.

 

I have never been shy about calling bullshit on the simplistic tripe being spewed under the guise of ‘expert advice’ or ‘common sense.’

 

That said.

I will suggest no topic has  been tortured more by common sense than simplicity.

 

 

Common sense suggests the simplest thing is the best.

 

Common sense suggests it is easier for a person to remember one thing and one word.

 

Common sense suggests in a complex world we humans crave simplicity.

 

Common sense suggests in a busy world we only have time for simplicity.

 

Common sense suggests a lot of nonsensical bullshit.

 

I will not argue that making something as simple as it can be is good but … well … simplistically … oversimplification is misleading and ultimately creates bad less-than-informed decision making AND thinking.

 

We have used this common sense simplicity bullshit for one simple reason — it serves us well in challenging the most established legitimate rule of Life & things. And that rule is “the world is complex.”

 

We embrace simplistic solution after simplistic solution, all labeled as ‘common sense ideas’, which are often counter to what an expert would suggest <which is often deemed “too complex”>…  only to find 90% of the time common sense was not only just simply wrong but also made us stupider.

 

I have written about simplicity and the complexity of finding the simplest way to communicate the complex many times and as I do so today I would remind everyone of what Jonah Berger offered us for a nifty sound bite compilation of sound bites to create a sound bite philosophy:

 

Here are his STEPPS for making anything go viral:

 

–          Social Currency: We share things that make us look good (even if that means pictures of our cat).

 

–          Triggers: Easily memorable information means its top of mind and tip of the tongue.

 

–          Emotion: When we care, we share.

 

–          Public: Built to show, built to grow.

 

–          Practical Value: News people can use.

 

–          Stories: People are inherent storytellers, and all great brands also learn to tell stories. Information travels under the guise of idle chatter.

 

And while this is about “making things go viral” it is actually about finding the simplest way to communicate complex shit in a way that it is actually retained in a cognitive way.

 

I would also note that this dos not reflect “one simple thing”, sometimes your total obliviousness blows my mindit does reflect the complexity of reality and the mind and it reflects how to … well … help make us less stupider.

 

Ah.

Cognitive way.

As in “we actually understand what it is we heard, saw or read.”

 

That is an important thing to ponder because over simplification cheats cognitive value as well as the value of whatever it is you have to offer people. Simplicity may be “memorable” but it doesn’t really lodge itself in anyone’s mind & memory in any meaningful way.

 

In fact.

 

The less depth you offer in your oversimplification the more you are at the mercy of the mind that decides to remember you. What I mean by that is if you don’t provide the depth the mind will create some perceptions around whatever it lodges in the pea like brain.

 

Uhm.

 

This means the pea like brain lodges only what is actually the brain’s perceptions of what to remember and not what you <a> know to be true, <b> think it may be important for that mind to know or <c> want the brain to store away in its mind.

 

faulty reasoning oversimplification overlookI imagine what I am talking about is some wacky version of awareness versus engagement but that shit is bullshit too.

 

It’s all bullshit because we should be turning away from simplification and engagement and connection and simply focus on “say what you need to say to persuade someone to think or do what you want them to think or do.”

 

All the other bullshit just confuses things.

 

If I tell someone that ‘being noticed ‘ is the most important thing, than some asshat is gonna come up with some zany oversimplified shit that gets noticed but doesn’t effectively communicate one thing <let alone all the things you may have deemed truly important in the beginning>.

 

I admit … I balk at a lot of the bullshit offered online about simplification <and the importance thereof> because … well … it is an oversimplification which diminishes the importance of ‘communicating depth’ and increases the importance of ‘being noticed.’

I do not like that equation.

 

Effective communication is not a binary choice.

 

Effective communication, as with almost everything, is a complex challenge in communicating a complex thing well – because if you can communicate a couple things well it actually increases the perceived value <which then inevitably creates a stronger “memory stamp” … with value attached!>.

 

Which brings me back to our oversimplification crisis.

 

I could clearly argue that in today’s fragmented messaging world where information multiplies at light speed and a day still remains 24 hours that we humans are constantly honing our “incoming thoughts” filtering mechanisms.

 

I could also argue that our filtering system, as it exists today, sucks.

 

We have dumbed down our communication and thinking behavior to such a hollowed out status the majority of time we skate along the superficial irrelevant surface of reality.

 

If we are lucky, the ice doesn’t crack.

 

But the truth is that oversimplification only offers the thinnest of ice to skate on and inevitably we fall thru the ice … over and over and over again.

 

Uhm.

 

And in the business world falling through the ice is bad. It is, metaphorically, making a bad decision based on shallow thinking and paying for it.

 

Yeah.

I did say the biggest issue we face is oversimplification.

I said that because if I can solve this, if I can have smarter people communicating complex things more smartly and I can have more everyday schmucks understanding that simple solutions are more often like trying to place a square peg in a round hole … well … I think it unravels a shitload of other problems we face in today’s world.

 

I imagine I am arguing that if more people are less stupid and more aware of the reality of things the more effective & efficient we will be in addressing the difficulties reality tends to place in front of us.

 

period end-of-story_design

 

In the end I will go back to where i began … “say something meaningful in an interesting way.”

 

There are no rules nor boundaries in this statement.

 

You use as many words, or as few, as you need to say … to say something meaningful in an interesting way with the intent for it to be understood … and, ultimately, persuade someone to think something.

 

Period.

power concedes nothing unless demanded to do so

July 26th, 2017

 dynamics-of-power

 

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 “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and it never will.”

 

—–

Frederick Douglass

 

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“Next to the assumption of power is the responsibility of relinquishing it.”

 

Benjamin Disraeli

 

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Well.

 

We don’t talk about power and people often beyond the tripe about how power power authority leadcorrupts people <as I have written … only people can corrupt themselves>.

 

So let me talk about the dynamics of power in business in a non-corrupting way. What I mean by that is … well … responsibility & authority. Whether anyone really admits it or not once you attain a senior position in a business you have gained power. Now.

 

This power is most often not embodied in any nefarious way but rather it is simply a reflection of responsibility & authority.

 

You have power over decisions.

 

You have power over people.

 

You have power over funds and their allocation.

 

You even have power over ideas … which ones die and which ones live.

 

Most of us do not see this as some all empowering power or even eye it with an power-within-corrupt-strongauthoritarian belief. We do not view it as some “center of power” but rather we see it is actually more like a linear tool <or hammer> selectively used.

 

Now.

 

Wielded well … power can look like a central source of authority but ‘wielded well’ is actually a flurry of linear tools, like playing whack-a-mole, applied to establish selective moments of desired behavior and progress <and this flurry actually creates the sense that there is a larger centralized power>.

 

But here is the thing.

 

Once you have gained authority you are extremely hesitant to concede the ‘power.’ This hesitancy actually shifts into full-on “hold on with ragged claws” if you have mastered <or you feel like you have mastered it> the ‘useful flurry of power’ in appropriate ways.

 

Partially I think this is the allure of … well … owning the initiative – or having some power over initiatives. This shouldn’t be undersold. It is exhilarating and … well … powerful. In business while we measure results and report ad nausea the most satisfaction most leaders get is not in measuring parts & pieces but rather the totality of what they do.  and once you taste that satifation you have no desire to conceded anything that could keep you from possibly attaining that satiscation again.

 

Is that holding onto power? Sure. I guess.

But I tend to believe it is more “I know how to do my shit and I want to keep ding that shit” attitude than any ral bad ‘power trip’ type attitude.

 

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“Never relinquish the initiative.”

 

—–

Charles de Gaulle

 

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Unfortunately … people on the outside just don’t see it that way.

 

And it is understandable they may not see it the right way because I believe it speaking Power of Words 577x600was Geoffrey O’Brien who said ‘history unfolds as always in the midst of distraction, misunderstanding, and partially obscured sight-lines.’

 

That is how the authority version of power works. It unfolds in the midst of distraction and partially obscured sight lines.

 

That is how authority works. It unfolds in the midst of a flurry of choices, decisions, delegations and doing <all blurry and, yet, creating a sense of central power>.

 

Regardless of what it is … or what it looks like … once attained we tend to not want to relinquish it – we do not want to concede it.

 

It must be demanded to be relinquished.

 

And here is where it gets tricky. Because even if there is a demand to relinquish, and you do have to relinquish <you get fired and have to take a ‘lesser authority job’ or you get demoted or you simply shift jobs with a different authority level> … we hate to concede it.

 

I mention that because that is one reason why older senior people who decide to take a lower titled job <even with the best intentions and capability to actually ‘do the job’> can struggle or just be a pain in the ass.

 

It’s not that they truly are a pain in the ass it is simply … well … they have felt the satisfaction of authority and dislike the loss of that authority.

 

All that said.

 

Power concedes nothing <unless the power owner is stupid, foolish or arrogant> … but as someone smarter than I said once … it always reveals.

 

Authority reveals.

 

And maybe what I am suggesting today is that authority can actually reveal character and ability. And once you have seen what you can do, what you are capable of doing and what you like to do … well … it is not an easy thing to conceded or relinquish.

 

And, let me be clear, you can actually be good with authority and effective with use of power and can still be demanded to relinquish it.

 

It is a falsity to suggest that being good at something means you will always be able to do it <or someone will always seek to have you do it>. you can be forced to relinquish authority, even if you are good at it, for a variety of reasons in business <ranging from well-intended to absurd>.

 

It is natural to want it again if you were demanded to relinquish it.

 

Anyway.perspective common sense justice good people

 

I say this so that maybe you take a second before you rush to claim someone is ‘power hungry’ or ‘protective of their power’ … and mean it in a bad way. Having authority and enjoying authority and wielding authority well is addictive <or maybe just like having ‘the perfect buzz’>.

Is it wrong to be hungry for that? Whew. Sure doesn’t seem wrong.

 

I say this so that maybe you take a second before you rush to judge a person who has had a senior role and has decided to assume a position with lesser responsibility & authority because … well … once you have had authority it is really really hard to relinquish it.

 

While power concedes nothing I would suggest that the feeling of authority used well tends to not want to concede anything.

 

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“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.”

 

Paulo Coelho

 

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the myth of simplification

July 19th, 2017

simple i like

 

“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.” – Oscar Wilde

 

 

“What a simple black and white world you must live in.” – unknown

 

 

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Communication.

 

Effective communication has been, and always will be, complex and complicated … and a good thing for society. Effective communication inevitably feeds into the minds and enlightenment of the listeners. If you dumb down communication inevitably you dumb down the listeners.

 

Old white men hollowed out communication. I imagine as they hollowed out everything else they found it inherently more productive to gain their objectives by hollowing out communication. Everything became soundbites, powerpoint bullet points and ‘elevator speeches.’ Effectively communicating complexity took on less importance than puncturing the mind with a quick sharp stab <and then walking away>. Old white men mastered the art of emptying communication to a point where businesses end up walking on the slippery surface of irrelevance <cloaked in a beautiful robe called “what is important for you to know.”>

 

Bruce McTague

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Well.

 

I may as well fulfill my contrarian obligations immediately – nothing is it is complicated complex not simple Life worldsimple.

 

Nothing.

 

Look.

 

I may be wrong but I think the world would be a shitload ‘righter’ if we just assumed nothing was simple and started acting that way.

The whole idea of simple and simplicity has … well … fucked us up royally. It has almost become an obsession toward which everyone is consumed by until we are either frozen into inaction <this isn’t simple enough> or we hold our “simplicity prize” up high proudly … only to find in our holy quest we discarded some essential items which would have actually helped this ‘simple idea’ live.

 

We all want to simplify our lives <or at least we talk about it a lot>, simplicity in thinking, simplicity in ideas and simplicity in work … and yet, as a generalization, we all seem to seek every way possible to complicate our lives.

 

We see simplicity as a way to solve problems and, whew, we are a certainly a ‘people’ of problem solvers <but also problem creators as a corollary>.

And, yet, “it seems simple …” may be the biggest problem of all and may be one of the most misused and misguided statements and thoughts in today’s world.

 

 

A good friend of mine, an experienced communications professional, always says “if you are explaining you are losing” as an argument for simplicity. The challenge is that it … well … isn’t an argument for simplicity. It is actually an argument for clearly articulating what you want, and need, to articulate.

In fact … as I will point out later in this rant piece … being too simple actually creates more confusion, therefore, simplicity could actually be creating the explaining.

oh my god cover mouth silence do not speak

 

 

<oh my>

 

 

And that is where the myth of simplification dies. It dies in truth and reality.

 

Simplicity reality, more often than not, consists of two opposing things – security/reliability, which anchors the sense of safety thereby justifying the common sense aspect of simplicity, & passion/risk/newness, which anchors the sense of movement thereby justifying the smartness aspect of simplicity.

Simplicity reality, more often than not, is an amalgamation of multiple fragments crating a mosaic which is pleasing to the eye <and relatively easy to grasp>.

 

Simplicity reality, more often than not, consists of some opposing thoughts in that, typically, if you have one… you can’t have the other.

 

Contrary to simplicity narratives the complexity actually brings in the pragmatism of a simplistic reality <and I would argue effectiveness.>.

 

All this means is that simplicity is rarely simple and trying to capture it in a meaningful single word or image is … well … not only silly but sells the depth & breadth of a decision or situation or idea or thought … or reality itself … short.

 

Reality is complex.

Life is complex.

Most ideas and thoughts are complex.

 

And there is no simple solution to complexity.

 

Simple is hard.

 

It is hard because sometimes, okay, most times simplicity is arrived at by distilling complex solutions/ideas down to its most efficient form.

 

business simplicity complex woekI would note that from my own business experience I would say that many times simplicity ideas can only be found from checking out all of the different solutions. And after sifting through everything simplicity is more often found in a “doh” moment <not an “ah ha!” moment> in that you may be surprised by the fact simplicity is just the thing that makes the most sense at the end of the day.

 

And why is simple THAT hard?

 

Well.

 

Al Einstein said, “Make things as simple as can be—but not simpler.”

 

Geez.

 

So simple isn’t the least.

It may actually be somewhere above the least and significantly below the most <complex>.

 

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek simplicity. But what it does mean is that simple or simplicity shouldn’t be defined by rules or milestones or trite “say it in 10 seconds or less” dictates or, well, any boundaries.

 

Simplicity defines itself it is not defined. Simplicity is reflective of the time, place, people, situation and solution needed.

 

Ponder that my friends.

 

What may make simplicity even more complex is, oddly enough, that part which should make it the simplest.

 

Simplicity, more often than not, is the nitty gritty stuff and not the more glamorous big vision or “big idea” stuff. It is about marrying principle and pragmatism and gradual improvement – piece by piece and part by part.

 

To me, simple and simplicity tends to be found in shit that most people would think has nothing to do with simple:

 

  • Coalesce fragments

 possibilities-plans-ideas-infinity-life-business-choices

“The whole is simpler than the sum of its parts.

Willard Gibbs

 

I think people would be much better off f they understood that while simple may be represented in ‘one thing’ it is actually representative of many things.

The best of the best ‘simplicity finders’ are the ones who are the best at coalescing fragments. Gathering up disparate pieces of information and figuring out how to make them whole in a way that

 

 

  • Box in complexity

 

Let me begin by paraphrasing a quote about how Sylvia Plath wrote…

 

“Whether Plath wrote about nature, or about the social restrictions on individuals, she stripped away the polite veneer. She let her writing express elemental forces and primeval fears. In doing so, she laid bare the contradictions that tore apart appearance and hinted at some of the tensions hovering just beneath the surface of the American way of life.”

 

Margaret Rees

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I used the quote because far too many people think simplicity is about stripping away things to showcase the core instead maybe they should be thinking about stripping away the veneer so that the truth can be laid bare.

Let me explain <you will not agree with this if you do not agree that simplicity is a ‘whole made up of fragments’>.

 

Simplicity, to me, is about using the complex parts to box in the whole.

 

making your point bracket triangulate business combine experienceYou either:

 

 

  • Bracket what you want to offer <simplicity resides within two opposing thoughts>.

 

 

  • Triangulate what you want to offer <simplicity resides in the middle>.

 

 

  • Box in what you want to offer <simplicity gets squeezed into middle>.

 

Now.

Some people may use what I just shared and say “simplicity is the distillation” and I would push back by suggesting “simplicity is reflective of all the parts as it shows the whole.”

Am I parsing words?

Maybe.

 

But when someone says ‘show a picture’ or ‘say it in 5 seconds or you lose them’ and be done with it … I just don’t think it is that simple. Simple stimuli are just as likely to confuse. Provide ambiguity. Generate a feeling of ‘lesser than’ <”I am missing something of value or I missed the opportunity to showcase some value”>.

 

— note: there is a lot of research supporting this thought —

 

Look.

 

Our minds are like real estate.

 

Space is limited and we can’t let every thought, idea, product, person or whatever have a place to stay.

 

That means where the rubber hits the road with regard to being simple and simplicity is that it must create some connection with whomever is touching that simplicity

 

I will end with Chopin. Chopin is one of my favorite classical composers. I seriously doubt anyone who has ever looked at any of his sheet music would suggest his music was not complex. And, yet, close your eyes and listen … it contains a simplicity that connects.

 

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“Simplicity is the final achievement.

After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

 

Frédéric Chopin

 

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All I know is that we have totally fucked up the idea of simplicity to a point where simple, or simplicity, is more a myth than reality. This myth has hollowed us out – hollowed our thinking, our communication and our culture.

 

beauty in the breakdown 2

Most of the worthwhile things in Life are not hollow … they have depth & breadth … they are … well … complex.

 

Reality is complex.

 

Life is complex.

 

Most ideas and thoughts are complex.

 

And there is no simple solution to complexity but I would suggest that the beauty can be found in the breakdown of the complex to its simplest form.

Enlightened Conflict