Anything simple is false

My brother has been repeating the same quote for years: « Anything simple is false. Everything else is not usable. » (Original quote from French author Paul Valéry: »Le simple est toujours faux. Ce qui ne l’est pas est inutilisable.« )

It took me years to understand the truth behind those words. They reveal the impossible challenge that a quest for simplicity unveils.

Every time you will try to simplify something, you will be slowed down by voices letting you know how much information you’re leaving aside. Small details that make a big difference, distinctions that matter, precision that is there for a reason, so many things shouting that you can’t simplify the situation further because the situation just isn’t that simple.

And yet, a truthful representation of a complex situation can carry even less value for the person receiving the information. When exposed to something complex, people will immediately turn on their defense mechanisms and either ignore the entire channel of communication, or break down the complexity into smaller, simpler chunks, ones that can digested by the human brain.

Balancing both evils, I think you can solve the dilemma by paying attention to your message and to your audience. What critical information must you pass on? And what level of complexity can your recipient absorb?

Once those 2 criteria are clear, you should be able to judge whether any information is supporting your purpose.

For the remaining details that won’t make the cut, follow the ancient practice of Irish storytellers: « Never let the truth ruin a good story.« 

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