#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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The curious music that I hear

For Christmas, my daughter gave me a collection of transcribed poems – some of her favorites, some of mine – and painted a small watercolor to accompany each one.

I opened the cover and immediately began to cry.

How could I not?

I had received two of the most precious gifts any of us can give; to be the subject of one’s sincere attention and to be understood.


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Into Deep Water

Each one of us has a net in which we capture an understanding of ourselves. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net in the shallow end of our experience, catching and re-catching what we have long known about ourselves, hoping that this time the limitations of our understanding won’t hold us back, won’t prevent us from getting closer to our heart’s desire.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are. Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back. 

Each one of us has a net in which we gather the collective force of our connection to others. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net on the surface of our experience, keeping our relationships at a safe distance, rarely risking bringing them closer and almost never including someone new. We falsely believe that this distance protects us, reducing the risk of being known for who we truly are.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are. Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.  

Each one of us has a net in which we collect all the learning of our adult life. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do so very often, if ever. Instead, we toss our net in the shallow waters of what is known, comforted by the embrace of the status quo, keeping a wide territory between us and the edge of the new with its persistent threat of exposure, embarrassment and failure.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning. Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.” 

Each one of us has a net. It is large and strong. It works fine along the shore but it is built for deeper water.

Only you can throw it there.


Welcome to the Age of Meaning

January-2The divisiveness in the world today is all the evidence we need that we have entered the “Age of Meaning.” Our fragile society convulses with the recognition that what has come before no longer serves us and what will be has not quite taken shape. It is into this middle ground, this breach of both opportunity and uncertainty, that today’s leaders must step if tomorrow’s world will become what it must.

Those leaders, powerful in their conviction and beautiful in their humanity, will hold that space because they have demonstrated the ability to express the elements of meaningful change. They will have equipped themselves – through courageous discovery and deep commitment – to speak in three essential ways:

First, they will speak with the voice of understanding. They will articulate a depth of knowledge about who they are and what they believe. They will start within, never asking someone else to change before they have done so themselves. It is their modeling we will honor, their going first we will prize, because it will offer both the permission and the push we need to do it ourselves.

Second, they will speak with the voice of connection. Their strength of understanding will fortify them to reach out, building relationships of mutuality and trust regardless of power or position. They will make themselves known to us first as human beings, inviting relationships based on essential truths rather than of convenience or opportunism. Their vulnerability will knit us together, a catalyst for common purpose and greater impact.

Finally, they will speak with the voice of exploration. Learning, always learning, will be their invitation, their expectation. They will refuse the seduction of the status quo and will rely on us to help them do so. Together, we will question, challenge, invite and listen. We will examine our need for certainty, our resistance to change, as we take the tentative and purposeful steps we must take to reach the edge of our understanding. And then we will go further.

We are at the dawn of the “Age of Meaning,” the full possibility of which will be revealed by those leaders who speak it into existence. More and more, people are listening for a better way. Will you speak to them? Will you be heard?

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, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.