Perhaps apocryphal, there’s a story that aides to president Ronald Reagan were asked to present written policy issues on which he was to decide “double-spaced, occupying no more than one side of a standard sheet of 8.5”x11” paper.”
While some may see this directive (if true) as an effort to accommodate the president’s short attention span or his lack of appreciation for nuance, I think it’s a great idea. (Then again, that may be due to my short attention span and….Look! A squirrel!)
Sometimes I think the biggest issue with government and corporate inefficiency can be traced to people being afraid they’re going to sound stupid.
…the problem is the mistaken belief that using simple language makes you sound like a simpleton..
We’ve all suffered through sentences like, The task-oriented process will optimize inbound interactions and invest in an advisory panel which will capitalize on real-time decisioning to leverage event-triggered campaigns. But the problem isn’t with obfuscated language–that’s just a symptom. The real problem is the mistaken belief many people have that using simple language makes one sound like a simpleton. Albert Einstein (the inspiration for describing super-smart people as “Einsteins”) said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Lesson One then: Make certain you know what you’re talking about.
Next, always keep in mind that the goal of your words is to effectively inform or instruct. Only when a message is understood can it be acted upon. The people who prepared the “Reagan Memos” needed the president to make decisions. Therefore, they curbed the seemingly innate urge of the bureaucrat to use vague language. I don’t think they “dumbed things down,” but rather presented the information the president needed in an economical and pragmatic way.
Knowingly or not, they were heeding another piece of advice from Dr. Einstein: “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”