surface simplicity

July 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 4 Comments
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Final thought on my recent simplicity posts.

I came upon the following quote in a book I’m reading called An Intellectual History of Liberalism.  (BTW, it’s a very interesting read on the history and evolution of geopolitical movements and frameworks such as empires, city-states, oligarchies, monarchies, democracies, etc.) The (relatively small) book is itself a great example of simplicity, given the extremely tedious and voluminous subject. But one quote in particular really hit me as the author was talking about Machiavelli:

I shall confine myself to the idea that everyone, even those who have not read him, has of Machiavelli — that is, to the surface of his work, because it is this surface that influenced men’s minds. With an author of Machiavelli’s rank, the surface contains, so to speak, the depth. (p.13) [emphasis mine]

Take some time to absorb that.  “it is this surface that influenced men’s minds.” I think that is every bit as true today, but it’s not limited to Machiavelli!  It happens to you and to me.  And, likely, we do the same “surface” reading of others.  The real genius is to achieve what he credits to Machiavelli, which is that “the surface contains, so to speak, the depth.”  THAT should be our goal.  That our simple surface — presented through simple, clear, concise communication — is the same as the depth of what we’re trying to communicate.

That is no small challenge.



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  1. BTW, chasker will be thrilled to know the book is written by a Frenchman!

  2. Coach Boz,

    I liked the quote and the meaning had to read it quite a few times. Ultimately seems like the ole K.I.S.S. principle? With a lil french flair?


  3. Wow…that surface has so much depth it’s complicated! It brings to mind sayings like, “Image is everything” and, “Perception is reality”. People’s perception of the image before them definitely “influences men’s minds” and for better or worse becomes their reality.

    It also seems like there is a great bias against simplicity when we’re communicating whether its a keynote-like presentation or a “simple” email. Maybe we’re attempting to make up for ineffective prose by throwing a whole lot of words against the wall and hoping some of it will stick.

    I truly believe that most of the time, we haven’t taken the time to consider what we’re actually trying to say. The end product is more a function of our “thinking out loud” and not the real message we intended to get across.

  4. *CR, the author basically just added that in passing. He wasn’t trying to imply things *should* be that way, he was just stating that with Machiavelli, things were that way.

    *Russ, I couldn’t agree with you more. I find that it is very difficult to be succinct and simple with a complex idea. Again, I go back to high school coaching. We’d be in a room diagramming all these plays and I’d have to say, “OK, who’d going to teach this to Johnny, who just got a 2.1 GPA?

    This is not to say everything *can* be simplified in every situation. I think of Einstein’s quote: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I think a lot has to do with your audience. Such a vast topic to explore here!

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