The Simple Truth

In a previous blog post about leadership, I wrote that one of the qualities I most admire in leaders is their ability to simplify things. Being able to simplify complex ideas is essential to effective communication. It’s an under-appreciated skill that I believe very few have mastered. Over-complication leads to inefficiency, miscommunication, bottle necks, and unnecessary frustration. 

I’m hardly the first person to tout the benefits of simplicity in communication. You may be familiar with the expressions,  “Keep it simple, stupid! (KISS)” and “Less is more.” Many experts have covered the same idea. Arianna Huffington wrote about “relentless prioritization” as a way to be more efficient and effective at work. It’s a powerful concept. She wrote, “Relentless prioritization is about relentlessly asking ourselves what’s essential to do today.” While she applies this concept to increasing productivity, the same can be applied to better communication. What’s the essence of what you’re trying to say? Say that, and drop the rest.

We see the simplicity principle applied to visual design, cooking, and even music. American jazz bassist Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creative.”

So how can we get better at simpler communication? Here are a few simple rules that I have found useful.

  1. Do more, plan less. 
  2. Get comfortable with your core message, and repeat it. A lot.
  3. If you can’t explain something in one sentence or less, it’s too complex.
  4. If you don’t understand something, ask. There are others in the room who don’t either.
  5. Big words won’t make you sound more intelligent. 
  6. You can’t convince anyone of anything if you don’t really understand it.
  7. One sentence is better than two. Be your own editor. 
  8. Ask for what you need to be successful in your job – sometimes it’s really that simple. 

Do you have any simplicity hacks of your own? I’d love to hear about them as I work towards a simpler and more efficient 2020.

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