Why it’s so hard to keep things simple.

Recently, I made a list of my favorite mantras about “simplicity” —

KISS — Keep it simple, students (this is a family blog).

Occam’s razor — All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Confucius (and most marketers)

Less is more.

Liberating Constraint — Without boundaries, the imagination flounders.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

There are more insightful morsels like these, but the seven above I keep foremost in my thinking every day.

I find myself returning to them often because we humans tend to move away from simplicity rather than toward it.

I’m not sure why. Maybe because simple requires thinking and that’s hard work. Perhaps it is because we like new and shiny. We succumb too easily to boredom. When something becomes familiar, we no longer trust it. We have short attention spans, although I question this supposedly accepted fact. Any combination, or all, of the above.

I noticed this propensity for the complicated when I started teaching college composition and literature. My students, for reasons not clear to me, wrote paragraph-length sentences to express their ideas. Perhaps they wanted to impress me.

They seemed to fear short sentences. Their lengthy sentences most often ended up in the ditch, having arrived there for lack of control and clarity.

I see it regularly among participants of my creative-brief-writing workshops. They admit to populating their briefs with marketing lingo and insider short-hand because that is the world they know.

When you live and play among others who speak the same language, is it any wonder that this short-hand ends up in their creative briefs?

Is it any wonder that the writers of this short-hand are the last ones to see it?

My favorite mantra from the list above is Albert Einstein’s. If I can’t make an idea, a brand, a concept clear to a child, how can I understand it?

Try it. Explain free trade policy to a six year old.

I’m sure you can, but not before you really think about it.

Simplicity is easy to preach, harder to practice.

Which is one reason why we have so many catchy mantras to remind us to keep things simple.

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