“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
Albert Einstein


“The more stupid one is, the closer one is to reality. The more stupid one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


“Dumbing up” is taking dumb, simplistic, thinking and attempting to make it look smart. While I would like to claim credit for ‘dumbing up’ it is actually the name of a World Party album.

Dumbing up is never positive and it is almost always counterproductive. But. It sounds smart. It looks smart (when it is delivered in meme form). And there is almost always a grain of smartness within it.

My favorite example continues to be when someone says Leonardo Da Vinci said “simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.” Why is this dumbing up? Well. anything that generalizes simplicity is dumb. Simplicity is no more, and no less, than understandability. Second. Da Vinci never said this. And that is where dumbing up makes it bones – by attaching the simplistic dumbish twisted good idea to someone or something which credibly could be categorized as insightful, brilliant, genius, smart.

Which leads me to say dumbing up is the key to simplicity, branding, short term versus long term, organizational design, well, any complex topic in the world today.

Why do I say that? One of the signs of dumbing up is the implication that they are doing it to make it more ‘understandable’ to everyone. Dumbing up implies you are the smart one, not them. Yeah. Once again this is the alternative universe in making something dumb look smart. Like “It doesn’t matter unless there are results.” Another one of those vapid inane ‘dumb up’ comments. I mean, seriously, what does that mean? Results can be whatever you want them to be so meaning is meaningless to anyone but the result you decide to use.

Which leads me to businesses and organizations.

We have been floundering about attempting to showcase some metaphor for how a business actually works. To be fair. This metaphor rummaging exercise has the objective of changing a fairly persistent belief a business is a machine. But here is where dumbing up comes into play. Businesses are about people. Period. As James Carse said “a business is what people do together.” Period. No metaphor. Just, well, people interacting (conversations, connectivity, collaboration all cascade out of that simple sentence). But then we get dumb from there. From here on out we attach ecosystems, biology, bees, forests, fungus, networks, and a slew of other metaphors to dumb up the idea.

And here is where dumbing up shows its negative value underbelly. Businesses actually hear and see all the metaphors and either (a) get confused as “all that mumbo jumbo” and revert back to machine (because it is easy and can be easily attached to performative bullshit) or (b) lovingly embrace and ignore the substantive shit that really matters (people creating something, and things, of value, that is valued by the market).  Simplistically, in business, “dumbing up” promotes superficiality and undermines genuine expertise and understanding.

Which brings me back to simplicity.

Simple” and “simplicity” are related terms, but they have slightly different meanings. Simple refers to something that is easy to understand, uncomplicated, or straightforward. It can also mean something that is plain, without unnecessary embellishments or complexities. Simple unclutters for the mind to grasp. Simplicity refers to the quality or state of being simple. It can be used to describe a wide range of things, from the design of an object to the style of writing or speech. Simplicity implies a focus on the essentials and a rejection of unnecessary complexity or embellishment. It is often associated with elegance, efficiency, and clarity.

In summary, “simple” describes something that is easy to understand or uncomplicated, while “simplicity” is a broader concept that refers to the quality or state of being simple, unembellished, and focused on the essentials. Yeah. What I just described is Occam’s Razor. Say what is essential – nothing more and nothing less – not the least. And I end there because if there is a dumbing up example , it is Occam. The ‘dumb uppers’ use Occam to suggest simple is least. Occam never said that. He said “say the least that says the most.” The difference between the two is the difference between being dumb and smart. Ponder.

Written by Bruce