The complicator’s dilemma

Complicated language is still often mistaken for knowledge. Or the appearance of knowledge. The theory is simple: the more complicated words you use, the better you sound. And if I can’t understand what you’re saying, you’re much smarter at that specific subject than I am. In theory.

But a complex world isn’t solved by complex language — if anything, we need to go back to the basics of how we speak with one another. This is also known as a state of ‘informed simplicity’:

Informed Simplicity is an enlightened view of reality. It is founded on ability to discern or create clarifying patterns with complex mixtures. Pattern recognition is a crucial skill for an architect, who must create a highly ordered building amid many competing and frequently nebulous design considerations.

Informed simplicity isn’t about ignoring the complexities of the real world, it’s about understanding them and still agreeing on a clear set of principles to deal with them. Lack of informed simplicity, on the other hand, is why startups can’t often explain what they do or why no one can agree on what a vision, a strategy or an idea are.

In an age defined by the ‘innovator’s dilemma’, we also seem to be suffering from a complicator’s dilemma. In the complicator’s dilemma, established players fail to react to a complex environment because their solution is to ‘change the conversation’ by introducing more jargon. The paradox here, of course, is that newcomers also tend to suffer from this.

This is why we invent terms like ‘programmatic’ when we just mean ‘automated’, or why most people who say that ‘X is dead’ are probably driven by an agenda in which their solution to what X does is supposedly better. Or at the very least, the fact that they propose a new term for a thing acts as a proxy for novel thinking that is actually useful. Think along the lines of:

TV is dead, it’s all about social media marketing
Email is dead, it’s all about video content
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is dead, it’s all about Riskiest Assumption Tests (RAT) [yes, this is real, but I won’t link to it out of respect]

The solution, as always, might be… well, simple (duh). If the established practice is to complicate how we speak, and as a result how we work, to break through is to challenge this complicator’s dilemma and focus on what the market truly craves: simplicity.

After all, if, as Genius Steals say, creativity is all about unexpected combinations, we’d be doing ourselves a favour by using language that is transferable across disciplines. It helps us keep in touch with one another. Learn from one another. Work better with one another. And hopefully create something that’s simple enough that other people, regular people, will actually value, use and share with everyone else.

I’m a freelance strategist and partner at Group Think, where we want to develop the next generation of strategists through honest conversations. Sign up for first dibs on our events here.