Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Can You Dumb it Down?

One of the benefits of knowing you’re not the smartest person in the room (any room), is that you don’t have the pressure of constantly having to prove it. Long ago I accepted the distinction of being utterly average. I used to claim I was merely normal, but when my sister, a Psychologist, wouldn’t stop snickering, I switched to “average” to inflate my pride.

My wife and I recently bought a new washing machine. How hard could this possibly be? Washing machines are easy, right? Select the temperature, set the load size, turn the dial and push! Yes?

No.

Our six week user-course starts next month. I’m shooting for “Launderer apprentice,” she’s going for “Certified Apparel Contamination Expert.”

Why can’t common tasks be simple?

Bjarne Stroustrup, creator of C++, echoed my complexity neurosis when he said, “I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.”

I’ve moaned about the need for simplicity in architecture before, but today I want to talk about communication, and specifically the phrase, “you’ve got to dumb it down”, or as I saw in a recent text message, “ygtdid.” It took me an hour to figure that one out.

The ygtdid concept is generally applied when a really smart technofile is asked to present some important point to a manager or (gasp) manager’s manager. The techie often says, “I’ve got to dumb it down, so Mr. Necktie can grasp the most basic element before they render a random response that is supposed to sound like a decision.”

Personally, I don’t think of executives as Mr. Dithers. If you’re preparing for a presentation, don’t confuse clarity with detail.

The primary responsibility one has when explaining a new product, solution, or approach is to make sure the decision makers have the proper context, that they understand the ramifications of their decisions to both themselves and the customers they represent.

When asked a question, provide context and clarity, not more detail. Don’t dumb it down, smarten it up.

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