the oversimplification crisis
“We miss out on the value of the message itself as a vehicle for driving virality.”
“Say something meaningful in an interesting way.”
<author of “the shortest business book ever written”>
This is about how we have a simplification crisis.
This is actually about how we have an oversimplification crisis.
This crisis is making us … well … stupid.
This crisis is actually making us stupider.
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. We have hollowed out communication of the truly meaningful parts.
This surface skating intellectualism just makes us stupider.
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.
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.
How did it happen? 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 …”
I spoke up & my thought drew some <thoughtful> silence.
I said “oversimplification.” <insert group silence afterwards>
To me … oversimplification misleads and creates bad decisions and, worse, creates bad thinking <which leads to bad opinions, attitudes and thoughts>. To me we have created this oversimplification shithole we currently reside in. 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
Going 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.
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 Berger thought 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”, it does reflect the complexity of reality and the mind and it reflects how to … well … help make us less stupider.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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. I would say that the hollower the communication the less true persuasion engagement occurs and, conversely, the fuller the communication the more true persuasion engagement occurs.