told you once, told you a thousand times



“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”


Whew. “If I have told you once i have told you a thousand times”, what kid hasn’t heard this from an adult.

And what do the kids hear?


If I’ve told you once, I <might as well> have told you a thousand times <for all the good it did>.



How many times have adults heard a different version of this from a boss in the workplace?

This is almost a perfect symbol of the failure of our culture. Huh? I am not sure, but it seems, culturally, we have completely forgotten that a lack of desired response is more often a derivative of the stimulus provided rather than some ineptitude on the part of the responder/listener. In other words, it is more likely you said or did the wrong thing to get the response you actually desired.

The fact you told someone something 1000 times and didn’t ‘get it’ is your problem, not theirs.

Oh. But. In today’s world we seem to immediately default to “oh, they just don’t get it” especially if you have ‘told you a thousand time.’

Well, let me tell ya, most of us can ‘get it’ if we would just get a fucking semi-articulate stimulus.

I got this pounded into my head working at one of the world’s largest advertising agencies which most likely knew more about effective communications, and how to smartly teach how to effectively communicate, in the world <J. Walter Thompson>.

From day one you got stimulus response pounded into your head.


    • Develop a stimulus with a specific response in mind.

    • Measure responses.

    • If you don’t see the desired response review your stimulus to see how you could have better, more effectively, communicated it.


I had this pounded into my head so much I now have a mildly aggravating habit of constantly stepping back in after I say something and listening closely to a response and saying something like: “my fault, I don’t think I articulated what I meant to say well, what I should have said is …”

No. I am not calling the other person an idiot. My intent is always effective stimulus response. It is also a reflection of a fact that most times I say something, and I hear myself say it, and I listen to how it is received, I honestly think I could have said it better <offered a better stimulus>. This is actually ‘active listening’ at its best – listening to what I say, what is said, what is heard, and editing upon listening.


In my mind, it is more about fixing the environment of the flower does not grow.

In my mind, it is if I feel like saying “if I have told you once I have told you a thousandth time” I have a problem, not the person I am speaking with.

In my mind, if someone doesn’t try articulating a new stimulus if they don’t get the desired response <or a meaningful response> what they can only expect is … well … new evils, because bad has a nasty habit of filling unused space.


“He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for time is the greatest innovator.”

Francis Bacon





Repeated mistakes are a pain in the ass.

But it seems like far too often everyday people, in today’s world, suggest a Reptilian response <instinctual> is the ‘common sense’ response to everything. And, as so often true, there is a big grain of truth within that thought. The trouble is that while stimulus response is a linear truth <in a brain way> in the real-world cause and effect is not always linear and, yet, is still true.

To be clear.

There is a time & a place for reflexive Reptilian behavior, but you cannot, and should not, live your Life that way 100% and should certainly not live your life that way when dealing in communications. Effective communications is rarely checkers, but closer to a non-expert version of chess.


“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


Yeah. Chess sounds complicated, in fact, too complicated. Especially when everyone around you is whispering “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity … things are simpler than we make it out to be” in your ear.

Yeah. I sometimes think we get confused when we discuss simplicity. For simplicity is not actually in the stimulus – the delivery – but rather in the response.


That doesn’t mean a ‘simple’ stimulus is unable to generate a simple response, in fact, it may more often than not. Well. At least if ‘simple’ is ‘understandable.’

** note: there is a general confusion between simplicity and brevity. understanding the difference is critical to better communication.

However.  Simple stimuli are just as likely to confuse. Provide ambiguity. Generate a feeling of ‘less than’ in terms of what I may need to know to understand and make a choice/decision. So, 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. That is simply looking at it from a stimulus point of view (and confuses attention with understanding or engagement). Sure. Not a bad place to start, but it is a means to an end. Far too often we look at that as the answer when the reality is simplicity can be delivered in so many ways your head will spin.

Why does all this shit I am saying matter?

Because saying “if I have told you once if I haven’t told you a thousand times” <or even think it> will not change thinking, attitudes or behavior one eentsy teensy bit. You will fail to gain even close to the response you want – now, tomorrow and the day after.

What I am talking about, in my mind, matters.

I am not suggesting everyone become masters of communication, but I do believe we need to pay attention to the aspects of what makes for effective communication.

Why? Think about the prize.

        • decrease ignorance.

Or maybe I should suggest calling the thought an anti-ignorance initiative. Let me be clear. We are all ignorant of something so this isn’t about some crappy version of smart versus non smart, this is simply a version of thinking structural lift – raise the non ignorance tide for all. But at its most basic level it is fighting intolerance through communication. In my infamous “stimulus – response” thinking I would imagine a response from thinking this way would be enhanced understanding. The intent of this thought I have is we all benefit to understand the belief system choice and decision-making process, make sense of things in a common way, through a collaborative thinking and dialogue process, which inevitably makes people better by creating <improving> enough basic knowledge and critical thinking knowledge that people can better move forward in life and ‘make choices.’ Yes, It is my belief that cultivating thinking attitudes lead to actual behavior and belief systems as an outcome.



The prize is appealing, for society and culture, but in many ways, it goes against what we’re trained to do and runs slightly counter to what we think of with regard to communication.

Most of us think we are clear and articulate with our thoughts and that the receiver, assuming we don’t get the response we desire, is at fault.



“If I have told you once i have told you a thousand times … “


One would point out to the speaker of, what I would call, this symbol of failed direction that if you have had to say it 1000 times and are saying it one more time <1> are you not tired of saying it and <2> have you thought that maybe it will not work the 1001th time just like it didn’t seem to have an impact the 100o times before?


Just think about I. Think about stimulus response.  And please do so because I don’t want to tell anyone anything a thousand times.

Written by Bruce