Ways to Simplify Complex Ideas

Let’s cut to the chase.  

We all get stuck sometimes.  We think we know what to write.  But when we sit down to do it, the words just won’t start to flow.  

We usually blame it on writer’s block. Our inspiration has dried up.    

But the real truth is this … We’re still confused about what we want to communicate.  We wrestle with complexity.  We haven’t realised the essence of what we need to communicate.  

Sound familiar? A few simple principles can help you distill the essence of your message, and communicate the objective of your lesson.  

Here’s how

Ever feel like an idea is too multi-faceted with threads of thoughts moving in all directions? And you can’t work out how to weave all these ideas together into one piece of content?  

Step back and isolate one simple question. In their book “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking”, Edward B Burger and Michael Starbird suggest: “Consider a subject you wish to understand, and clear the clutter until you have isolated one essential ingredient.  Each complicated issue has several possible core ideas.  You are not seeking “the” essential idea; you are seeking just one … consider a subject and pare it down to one theme.” 

Let’s say you want to write a training narrative about how to build a thriving business online.  The question is complex and unwieldy.  

Firstly, what type of online business are you talking about?  Promoting a freelance training business online is different from building a Software-as-a-Service business.  

Secondly, when you want to know about building an online business, do you want to know more about business processes or marketing tactics or about picking the right subject.  

So, instead of trying to answer all ideas in one go, start with one simple question.  Write about how to generate business ideas, how to do a quick feasibility study, or how to pick one business idea.  

To simplify your ideas, simplify your question first.  

The principle of cutting away the clutter to clarify an idea sounds straightforward. But what is clutter?

When is nuance helpful and when does nuance become clutter?  

Imagine a TV remote with only an on/off button.  It’s simple, but not very useful, is it?  To add more functionality, you need more buttons, so complexity increases.  

But how many controls does a remote control need? The answer depends on the user’s wishes and what he wants to control.  

In his book “The Laws of Simplicity”, John Maeda describes this as the balance between “How simple can you make it?” and “How simple does it have to be?”  

A similar tension exists in writing.  How simple can you make your message?  When have you cleared so much clutter that you content becomes meaningless?  

To understand when nuance becomes clutter, think about your learner.  What information is essential so they can understand your ideas and follow your teaching.