#21 – Simplify

This is #21 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” You might like #10, also.


Here’s a sentence I read recently: “As brands grow they can sustain a certain growth rate; forcing higher growth unnaturally simply consumes capital unnecessarily.”

It’s a terrible sentence. It’s terrible because it’s complicated and excessive. It’s terrible because it is loaded with adverbs, and the overuse of adverbs is a crutch for bad writing.

I know that I’m on thin ice critiquing someone else’s writing since I make all kinds of mistakes in my own and that I edit only just enough.

I take the risk to make the point that it’s not just about the writing. It’s about the ways we construct facades of competence and self-importance rather than promote connection and learning through simplicity.

Here’s that sentence again, minus the adverbs: “As brands grow they can sustain a certain growth rate; forcing higher growth consumes excessive capital. 

What do you think? Has your opinion of the writer diminished? Are you disappointed by their lack of expertise? Or do you understand the sentence now without having to read it three times?

A good question to increase the impact of our writing and speaking: have I constructed this to prove something or to be of service?

Complexity without cause blocks understanding. Let’s get out of our own way and trust what Dr. Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”


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Between Friends

A text exchange between friends \\ 10:45 AM \\ December 18, 2019

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Friend: Checking in on you today – you keep crossing my mind. Wondering how your spirits are, and the sense of “darkness”?

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Me: Lovely timing…

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Friend: Crazy how that works

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Me: The thing about advent is that its a journey from darkness to light…

the dark is uncomfortable at first, and then seductive…a comfy place to stay and brood…the promise of light feels a little too much at first, the light itself a little harsh

And then the memory that the dark is in service of the light and stepping towards it is not fatal but generative

Feeling more on that side of things these days

TMI 😂

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Friend: No!! So good, and as usually happens with ‘lovely timing’, the words coming back my way were hand-picked for today. Thanks David!!

Here’s to stepping towards the light…

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And a few hours later, “friend” sends the perfect poem to encourage me to keep stepping:

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From (Rainer Maria) Rilke’s “Book of Hours”:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


i see light in the darkness text

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Feeling Words

I was reminded the other day of just how easily my default responses flow from my highly developed rational self (left brain) rather than from my more vulnerable, less practiced emotional self (right brain).

I seek concrete explanations and action steps – my need to know how and why and to know it right now! – because they are easier to process than the abstractions of feeling that are implicit in every interaction.

As a result, my emotional vocabulary is far less developed than my logical one.

Fine, good, alright and No, I’m just tired are safe, easy substitutes for what’s really going on with us most of the time. They are shortcuts that rob us of a deeper understanding that is required for any relationship to be sustained and to grow.

Fresh off of this insight I decided to see what I could find online about “feeling words” and found this very helpful resource.

I’m going to print a few copies and keep them close by so that I am better equipped to both offer and inquire about a more thoughtful understanding of the feelings present at any given time.

I’m guessing that’s going to make my conversations a little bit scary and weird for awhile. I’m also guessing that, with practice, it will make them better, more meaningful and more fulfilling.

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Photo credit: The Chalkboard / Loom

No Qualifiers

How about this?

How about you stop explaining what you are about to ask or say or state?

How about you just go ahead and say it?

I’m projecting that onto you because it’s a huge development opportunity for me.

And I’m already getting better.

Because I decided to. And because I have a good friend helping me.

Be direct. Be clear. And don’t go it alone.


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Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Do you still get nervous?

I’ve been performing or presenting in some form or fashion since I was 14 years old. In choirs, as a soloist, a trainer, facilitator, or speaker, I’ve been getting “on stage” for 35 years now. Once I while I’m asked, “Do you still get nervous?”

My answer is always “Yes” and that answer is often met with a look of confusion. Like, how can you have been doing this kind of thing for as long as you have and still feel nervous about it?

What I found myself explaining most recently is what I think of as the difference between functional and dysfunctional nervousness.

My functional nervousness is a result of an energy surge that comes from having an opportunity to do something I care deeply about – be it speaking or singing – and my desire to do the very best job I can possibly do. That nervous energy reminds me that I care and I would be very concerned not to feel it in the moments leading up to the experience.

Dysfunctional nervousness on the other hand, comes from a lack of passion (I’m doing this even though I don’t want to and I hope they don’t notice), a lack of preparation or a lack of experience, and possibly a combination of all three.

Dysfunctional nervousness is the type that induces fear and the very real desire to run away as fast and as far as possible.

My recommendation for moving from dysfunctional or debilitating nervousness to functional or energizing nervousness is to do the following:

  1. Whatever it is, don’t go through the motions. Find your personal passion in the material and deliver it from there. If you can’t find that, what are you even doing there?
  2. Don’t wing it. Do your homework and be prepared. That way, you can put your attention on your audience – who very much want you to succeed – and create an environment of generous, reciprocal positive energy.
  3. Get more at bats. Say “yes” to more opportunities. There is no better teacher than experience and if you really want to feel functional nervousness you’re going to have to go out and find/create the opportunities to do so.

Not only does my being functionally nervous remind me that I care, it reminds that I am alive. That aliveness – that energized and activated presence – is the greatest gift you can give to those who have come to listen.


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The Pretense of Self Sufficiency

I like to fix things. I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a qualified auto mechanic or electrician by any stretch, but if you need your new TV setup or your phone reconnected or your files moved to the cloud, I’m a good guy to ask.

I like being good at fixing these small things because they are appreciated and they give my ego a nice dose of self-satisfaction. Also, they let me maintain a sense of control over my surroundings.

Over the last few years I’ve discovered that my daughter likes to fix things, also. She’s really good at it. Especially in the technical domain she’s a much better problem solver than me.

I don’t admit that easily (see, “maintain a sense of control” above) because for the longest time I wasn’t willing, when she said “I know what to do,” to get out of the way and let her do it. Instead, we would jockey for position and I would finally snap at her to just let me figure it out.

I still do that once in a while but not nearly as much. I’ve learned that her development depends on the ability to express and use her gifts and that my job is to give her the space to do that.

Instead of seeking that ego boost for these small achievements I enjoy watching her proudly play this role in support of her family and friends. I also enjoy the new reality that whatever needs to be done doesn’t have to be done by me.

It seems to me that this is what great leaders do, too. They learn to stop clinging to any pretense of self sufficiency, to not just admit that they need help, but to relish in the opportunity to give others the chance to be helpful.

That’s a pretty great thing to be able to do for someone. It builds esteem, confidence and connection. It creates teams of problem solvers who learn to rely on one another’s unique abilities to get things done.

Perhaps most importantly, it creates the widest possible feeling of ownership for whatever we have agreed to create together.

In your workplace today, is there someone you can do this for? Is there someone doing this for you?


The Language of Aliveness

Are you living and leading with as much aliveness as possible? You might consider noticing your language to find out. Your instinctive verbal responses to challenging, complex or even novel circumstances say a lot about how alive and intentional you feel as opposed to how flat and stuck you feel.

This is the difference between holding a thoughtfully investigative, open stance versus one that is dualistic, critical and defensive.

The language of aliveness includes words, questions and phrases like:

Yes.
Let’s go.
I’m curious.
It’s possible.
Wow, look at that!
Let’s find out.
What about this?
Tell me more.
I’m not sure.
I don’t know.
How fascinating!
Let’s understand this better.
How can I help?

This kind of language, however you express it, signals to those around you an eagerness and readiness for learning. Used with careful intention it can be a contagious if fragile bulwark against its easy and defensive opposite.


 

More fun, please

img_6938It seems to me that the designer of this particular user interface had better options than this.

Instead of “No one is invited” how about:

“Who will you be meeting next?” or “Who’s on your invite list?” or “What are you waiting for? Make that call!” or “I can’t read your mind…who’s next?” or “Connection is the seedbed of creativity. Who will you be planting with today?”

I know, these aren’t great and I should stick to my day job, but I do wonder if the designer – team of designers? – knew that they had better options. I wonder if a better option got vetoed because it was “too funny” or “too creative” or “not in line with our customer’s expectations” or “not the best representation of our aspirational corporate image.”

I wonder when business got so dang boring, so risk averse, so disconnected from the actual human beings who work for them and from those they serve?

It’s not really a big deal, this unimaginative interface, but it’s just no fun. And we need more fun, much more of it, even in the form of a silly message on a corporate phone.


 

One Minute

One minute is longer than you think.

In class today, my colleague and I had our students give one minute presentations. We put a selection of topics in a bag, had them each blindly draw one out and after a few moments of reflection, speak about that subject for one minute.

They talked about money, achievement, finals week, 5 years from now…, gratitude, confidence, networking, an embarrassing moment, etc.

What I learned is that in one minute it is entirely possible to effectively communicate an idea with the support of an example or a story.

As a concept I imagine this rings true, nothing earth shattering here. But as a practice, I encourage you to try it. See if, like many of my students, you can smoothly articulate an initial reaction to a subject and then support it with an example from your personal experience.

We wanted our students to feel both the pressure and the potential that comes with brief opportunities to be heard. It became obvious to me that developing this ability will make them not only effective networkers but excellent dinner guests, colleagues and leaders, too.

When is it due?

Have you ever had “Just get it to me whenever you can” turn into “Why haven’t you finished that yet!?!”?

Both the requestor and the producer are complicit in this failure of agreement.

The former needs to provide a clear deadline, even if it’s a best guess, and the producer needs to request one before agreeing to the work.

The deceptively simple give and take of our daily interactions hinge on the clarity of our expectations, those guidelines within which we can plan for our mutual success.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.