The Sound of Simple


The Sound of Simple

Complexity kills. Don’t let the propensity for pontification undermine your strategy.

(This article was first published in Marketing Profs HERE)

We’ve all done it. We’ve made the association that bigger is better. That just saying more means you have more to say. That the more we pontificate the more likely we are to eventually say something smart. That the longer our PowerPoint presentations are the more astute they are going to seem. That a 100 page deck with complex measurement readouts and vague meaningless “results” is better than a distilled focused one page dashboard.

The truth is, a great idea is only great when others can actually understand it and easily take action against it. The best ideas are similar to magic, they should be at once amazing and concurrently self evident on the surface. In a time of an overwhelming abundance of information, data and options, the more efficiently you can explain your strategy, the better it likely is.

Strategic elegance is critical to how well your ideas or strategies are received.

My own take on how to explain elegance with regard to strategic storytelling is related to the formula for density (below in grey) which basically defines how much stuff is crammed into a defined space. I’m defining elegance as how much “space” you need to convey your thinking. Examining the red formula below, strategies (m) told without the need for a ton of pontificating (V) equate to ideas with a high elegance factor and tend to be more understandable – the first step of making them actionable, not to mention sellable.

Building in contrived complexity for the sake of making it seem like you “put a lot of work into this” serves only to keep your ideas from becoming actionable. It makes your idea seem too “hard” and casts doubt into how feasible it is to actually implement your idea. Ever notice people don’t like ideas which they perceive will result in a lot of work for them?

Paradoxically, it’s actually easier to make something complicated than it is to make it simple. Making brilliant ideas seem simple is a unique an invaluable talent. It requires much more thought however, because you not only need to conjure up the brilliant idea, but you then need to do the thinking for the folks to whom you are going to present this idea, so it’s clear and simple for them to understand.

Another common forum for this bombastic behavior is the readout on how a campaign performed. It’s easy to just throw all the charts and words you can together and submit a 100 page measurement deck because “hey, here’s everything, I’m sure you will find something of value in here.” A 100 page deck betrays an incredible lack of confidence in what you are saying, because in a long winded presentation, you really aren’t saying anything at all. Details are critical but should never be used as a crutch. Elegance with respect to analytic storytelling continues to be an anomalous occurrence.
This propensity for pontification is in part tied to fearful corporate cultures where actually taking action seems really scary. There is comfort in size – the notion that a deck should have a “thunk factor” (named as such for the sound your ridiculously bloated presentation makes when dropped on a desk) only signals you didn’t invest the time on your reader’s behalf to determine what was really important. Instead, you crammed it all in hoping it would give the impression you must know what you are talking about.

It won’t.

Distilling simplicity from complexity is not easy, but not being afraid to commit to a clear point of view is true thought leadership and we need more of it. Nobody has the time or desire to wallow in a sea of unnecessary details which only obfuscate your strategic intent.

Sure, there is safety in numbers, but there is power in paucity.

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