If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you probably don’t understand it yourself.
To quote Einstein: ‘If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.’ Simplicity is genius.
As we are increasingly bombarded with more information than we can handle and suffering the effects of information overload, we need to discover the art of less. We need to get to the point; what we leave out is as important as what we put in.
Technological advances have made it easier to gather and distribute information through a vast array of channels. The natural selection processes that would have kept all but the most important information from being distributed have gone.
Not only has the volume of information distributed gone up, but the quality of what we send has gone down. We don’t spend enough time processing and preparing raw information to ensure that it communicates effectively. David Shenk, author of a 1997 book on the subject, called the abundance of low-quality information that we mistake for communication (or knowledge) ‘data smog’. This smog prevents us seeing what is important.
Just because the world has made it easier for us all to become experts and to publish our work, doesn’t mean that we are and that we should. We have to get to the core of what our audience needs, to add by taking away. Making the opaque clear and the complex easy to understand requires control.
Simplicity is genius.
Data – raw facts and figures
Information – data organised into a meaningful context
Knowledge – information that has been understood and applied
Information overload – having more information than you can process effectively
Information Fatigue Syndrome – the effects of information overload, including the inability to make decisions or take action
Data smog/Dataglut/Infobog – the overabundance of low-quality information that pollutes daily life
Non-information – poor-quality data that lacks relevance and usefulness
Developing the art of doing less
As people with something to communicate or who communicate on the behalf of others, we have to apply the necessary skills to get our message across effectively, simply and succinctly.
Here are some suggestions for how to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of your communication:
1. Tailor for different audiences
Provide information specific to your audience’s needs and interests. Give your audience ‘permission not to know’ the other stuff.
2. Allow information to be ‘pulled’
You don’t have to send information direct in all its detail to everyone. Let people know where it is available if they want it. Ask ‘Why would someone want to receive this?’ rather than ‘Why not?’.
Don’t send the less important information. When you have decided what to send, put the most important points first. Not everything is ‘crucial’ and ‘essential’.
4. Be succinct
Add by taking away.
It is more important to know where and how to find what you need to know than to have everything provided on a plate.
6. Remove waste
Carry out an audit to review your communication channels, to find duplication and irrelevance. Pick your key channels and focus on making them work for you rather than being on every network and using every portal you can find.
7. Make links
Integrate messages and initiatives to create a single whole that can be easily digested and efficiently applied in real life.
8. Tell the truth
If you don’t know, or you don’t know yet, say so. This takes less time, energy and words than inventing something that probably doesn’t answer the question and may well have to be re-written at a later date.