Simplifying the Complex

Posted on July 12, 2011 by 1 Comment

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at the TED University session at TEDGlobal 2011. My topic was Wildfire Stories and, more specifically, how to take impactful innovations that can (at times) be complicated due to the science and technology required to bring them to life and to simplify the story around them so their impact can be understood in a manner that helps get the story told — and more importantly heard.

During the presentations, audience members had the opportunity to engage by speaking out about a big trend that TED attendees should be thinking about – comments were just thrown out from the audience floor. One comment shared from a gentleman from NASA was very relevant to my talk on storytelling: “The danger of over-simplifying complex ideas” was a trend he was worried about.

I intend to find that TEDster to hear more about his concern; I agree 100 percent that we cannot afford to trivialize complex challenges and issues so knee-jerk decisions and actions are taken because this can sometimes drive greater issues than those they were intended to solve.

But I’d also share the following:

  • Even as a kid, I loved science. I entered science fairs every year (my favorite was making my own paper from a wooden block out of my toy box) and grew up in a household where understanding the complex was expected. My dad used to quiz me on names of obscure rocks and minerals.
  •  I believe my upbringing and becoming so intrigued by the wonder of science and technology were driving forces behind my founding the agency that bears my (and my business partner’s) name today. I wanted to be able to bring together the curiosity of the innovator who asked the question of “Why?” — or, as is often a better question, “Why not?” — when developing a breakthrough innovation and marry that with the passion for TELLING that story in a way that removes barriers to adoption and IMPACT. 
  • As I mentioned in my talk, the reason this is SO important is because an invention doesn’t equate to being an innovation — and an innovation has no impact until it gets into the hands of the people who can most benefit from it.

One of our core values at WE is curiosity. Sometimes we probably have embraced this to nearly a fault when we constantly ask “Why, why, why?” But by asking those questions in partnership with our clients and listening to the answers, we can demystify the complex — that is what enables us to take the amazingly innovative, and sometimes equally complex, and make it a story that can truly change the way we live. That’s exciting stuff — and is the reason I still love the work I do today as much as I did over 25 years ago.

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One Comment

Jesse Radonski on July 16, 2011

I agree that we shouldn’t over-simplify complicated aspects of thinking or matters of fact. One of my pet peeves is when I overhear people talking to children like they’re children, even going so far as to use baby-talk instead of speaking to them like they’re people. Some of the most social kids I know are the ones that are spoken to like a young (or full grown) adult.

I believe it’s these children that will have a greater tendency to ask “why” more often.

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