Made to Stick: Simplicity

Following Zinsser On Writing, here’s a snippet on simplicity from Made to Stick.

The first chapter is about reducing your message to it’s absolute core.

As with Zinsser, clarity of intent is key for the Heath brothers: it’s not enough that the message is simple, it must be profoundly important.

They use the military practice of sharing “commander’s intent” as an analogy to help us cut to the core of our messages.

In the military, commanders at each level of the chain of command summarise their intent or purpose in a couple of sentences at the top of a each of orders. This is done so that when (not if) circumstances change and the details of best-laid plans become irrelevant or wrong, troops can still make decisions and take action to achieve their commander’s overall purpose.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. No sales plan survives contact with the customer. No lesson plan survives contact with teenagers.


They suggest finding the Commander’s Intent for your message by adapting these prompts:

“If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must …”

And

“The single most important thing that we must do tomorrow is …”

They continue:

Find the core of the idea. Weed out superflous and tangential elements. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is weeding out ideas that may be really important, but just aren’t the most important idea. The army’s commander’s intent forces its officers to highlight the most important goal of an operation. The value of the intent comes from its singularity. You can’t have five north stars.

It’s about discarding a lot of great insights in order to let the most important insight shine.

There’s plenty more in the chapter that I’ll share another time, but this is the main thing.

Easy question:
What superfluous and tangential activities are slowing you down?

Harder:
What good, productive activities can you set aside in order to achieve your main goal?

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