“The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.”
- Walt Whitman
Somewhere out there is a noun to describe this: Relating a sophisticated bundle of meaning in a comprehensive way, but in a powerfully concise and friendly manner. However, a word for that very thing did not seem available. So we had to create our own.
And That Word is… Thrimplicity.
It stands for “thorough simplicity.”
And we don’t see enough thrimplicity, at least in the marketing arena, with its analytics, interaction modeling, and demographic profiles. Sure, there are movingly simple consumer-facing ads, the occasionally brief PowerPoint slide (hallelujah). And in Walt Whitman’s literary world, good old “simplicity” worked. But in day-to-day, week-to-week interactions among marketing colleagues, clients, and customers, there is often an excess of messaging. This paragraph is probably 30% longer than it needs to be.
Here’s the problem. Many “presenters” are afraid to cover just enough material to get the point across in a clear and convincing manner, for a report, presentation, or hallway discussion.
Why the fear? Plenty of fearsome stressors abound in today's marketing marketplace. Fear of not looking rigorous enough; of not appearing sophisticated enough; of not falling in line with surrounding culture of jargon; of not justifying the time spent. Or just plain sounding too direct.
But even in the face of those demons, it's best to keep it thrimple. You don't have to look far to see the payoff.
Let’s look beyond marketing, because the principle of thrimplicity is the same. Noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson uses it – and has opened up the world of astronomy to an appreciative mainstream audience. Albert Einstein used it (“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself”). And most of the developed world has heard of his amazingly intricate brain. Hemingway made an illustrious writing career of it (see his 5 tips for writing well).
Of course, it takes confidence to say, "I don't know" or "that paragraph isn't necessary" or "just this is enough." But the luminaries above could have easily fallen into the same trap as any lesser-known expert: the “Curse of Knowledge,” as described by author Steven Pinker. It’s when you know a topic so well it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not knowing it (think LeBron James describing how to windmill dunk a basketball). Pinker offers great insights into clear prose, avoiding pitfalls common in “corporatese, legalese, academese, medicalese, bureaucratese, and officialese.
An Attitude, Not a Skillset
The beauty of thrimplicity is that it’s not defined by a set of simplistic grammar rules or techniques, but more an attitude toward communicating itself. The award-winning book Clear and Simple as the Truth pushes this fundamental point: Always remember that you, as writer/presenter, know something, and your purpose is to relay what you know to the receiver.
Build up to the point where you can avoid all diversions to that end. And do it consistently. Much more often than not, the simplest message will be more memorable and definitely more efficient. We're not talking eliminating artistic expression here – just boosting your garden-variety business communications (reports, presentations, emails). It will save you breath, and gain you respect.
Not that’s it’s easy to minimalize your communications and keep them meaningful. Be prepared to work at it.
“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”