Einstein teaches us about simplicity

Einstein teaches us about simplicity

There's nothing that can't be expressed simply

Smart people are usually busy. They need to absorb information quickly and like it delivered in straightforward language – especially in a post-C19 world where attention fatigue and cognitive overload are our constant companions.

You might think that smart people want to read long, technically sophisticated articles and product descriptions. Not true. They don’t have the time. They want the skinny version.

Since most financial services, legal and tech content is aimed at smart people, content marketers in these areas have a duty to simplify and express ourselves in plain English.

After all, Albert Einstein managed to describe the entire universe and all its works in three letters. Indeed, he stars in several social media memes to that effect, including: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it enough.” OK, he may not have actually said that, but you get the gist.

Make the complex plain

Einstein was exceptionally smart, so how do the rest of us go about reducing dull complexity to elegant simplicity? Here are some tips:

  1. Talk it out. Written work can often seem impenetrable, but the human mind distils dense material more quickly when we speak. Consider ghost-writing to make that happen.
  2. Challenge and interrogate the way something is expressed. Could you get your ideas across to people in a bus queue?
  3. Look at newspaper headlines. Here are two examples from the Financial Times: “Grey areas in the green economy”; “Private equity’s new bet on sport: buy the league”. Both have a snappy elegance, they say what the story is and why it is original, and they suggest the writers enjoyed producing the pieces.
  4. Reduce it and reduce it again: nothing’s so complex that it can’t be expressed in a Tweet (and that’s at the old length of 140 characters).
  5. Read your words and walk away. Sleep on them, return the next morning and see what you remember.
  6. It’s important to point out here that we’re not saying you shouldn’t have quality source material. Smart people usually like to read a summary, but they also want to know that it is backed up by a longer source, expertise and research.

Cascade your content

That's why Highbrook is a big fan of the cascading content plan, which starts with substantial content and breaks down into small pieces. Here’s how it works:

  • Start with a full thought leadership paper
  • Cascade down to a shorter article
  • Then social media posts
  • Some animation, explaining the basic points (see Making it move)
  • Perhaps some paid-for distribution
  • Then email newsletters and teasers driving to articles and graphics

Highbrook employed such a cascading programme for PIMCO, the world's biggest bond manager, distilling substantial documents into infographics and social media posts. Complex concepts in thought leadership papers were explained in simpler terms in graphics. These in turn were sliced and diced into posts for LinkedIn.

This method helps smart, busy people engage with content at the level they have time for at any given moment. It enables them to direct the information hose pipe in a controlled manner, without getting drenched.

PS: Thanks, Albert

Another quote attributed to Einstein is: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

In plain yet elegant English, we can play our part in keeping smart people sane.

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