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   Simplification for Non-Dummies


Conscious Communication: bringing communication up from "auto-pilot" and reactive, to thoughtful, responsive, and above all, intentional.

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To Just Reduce May Prove Obtuse

As our lives get increasingly busier and more complicated, simplification has become imperative. We feel the anxiety of time pressures and accomplishment pressures, and constantly look for ways to reduce our workloads. Ironically, there is an element of this drive to simplify that actually blocks our path. The concept is called diminishing returns, and it illustrates the situation we find ourselves in more and more.


The objective itself isn’t a problem, but how we strive for this simplification, and how we achieve it can derail our true goals. First of all, we rarely have a specific plan with guidelines and criteria for what, how, and where we’re going to simplify. It’s usually in reaction to a sense of overload, so we simplify in a reactive way. When we do things in reaction, they’re rarely planned for a best-case scenario. We’re trying to stop something we think/feel has gone too far. We just act, and either put ourselves in deeper water, or put ourselves in a position we’ll have to dig ourselves out of later.


I’m not arguing against simplification; indeed there are effective ways to approach it. Unfortunately, the most common method, is one of the least effective in the long run. It’s called reductionism. Reductionism tries to simplify by removing what is perceived as inessential. The problem is that the perception can be quite inaccurate, and garbage in gives you garbage out. Furthermore, it’s rare to go back and look for what was removed, to add it back in to the equation, and then start over. That flies in the face of speeding things up; the goal of simplifying in the first place.


Reduction in cooking intensifies the flavor of the sauce by removing “extra” liquid, but by rushing or going too far, we can cook off some of the flavors, and reduce the tastiness. Recognize this common result of over-simplification?  Less than accurate information and not so great results?


So although there are areas where reductionism can help in simplifying complex things by explaining them in terms of their parts, I’m going to simplify this article by not pursuing a discussion of reductionism itself. Descartes was coming from a very mechanistic viewpoint when he introduced the concept in 1637. To describe a tree by its internal mechanisms (dissecting the leaves and bark) misses out on the tree’s relationship to its ecosystem, (context) and certainly its aesthetic majesty. Reductionism loses that juice in our communication and relationships.


Baby Birds and Richard Nixon

Another common method of reducing our workload is pre-digestion. By having someone else go through the information first, digest it, and then pass on what they think/feel is important, you get less to go through, but it will get changed in flavor, color, and content. This works great for feeding baby birds, but destroyed Richard Nixon, and endangers anyone in a decision-making role. It goes back to the garbage in, garbage out rule. In an environment where people feel they can only give you “good news,” or tell you what you want to hear, you’re in big trouble.


We can use pre-digestion, as long as we’re sure that whoever receives the information first is giving accurate and unbiased accounts. We’re left trusting the media on a regular basis to tell us what’s going on, and you see how inaccurate, incomplete, and oversimplified those stories are. (Are elections merely competitions, where the only story is who’s winning? Might we want more background information to make an intelligent decision?) Incomplete, inaccurate, or biased information are the pitfalls of using predigested information for simplification.



Distilled Fundamentals

The objective of distillation is to separate the substance (relevant information) from the solvent it’s floating in (the sea of information). Once again, we’re at the mercy of what is perceived as substance. However, this is where we can implement a plan for how we’re going to simplify without losing important aspects of our interactions and communication.


In a very general way, everything in the Universe is connected and relevant. That won’t help us simplify. We need to establish what area we’re concentrating on, and how wide a net we’re willing to cast for this particular situation. How deep can we afford to go? Where are we going to simplify and where are we going to expand? When we address a situation with a simplification plan in effect, we get Optimized Results [couldn’t resist].


A simplified system using reductionism classified a client of mine as a “driver,” at his office. The label didn’t say anything other than how people perceived his behavior, and it put him in a box for people to avoid. We chose instead to look at why he felt the need to “drive,” which is an example of distilling down to fundamentals.

We really want to know if someone can do the job well. Their behavior is only relevant when it’s hurting their performance or the team, and giving it a label didn’t help anything. We need to ask some questions. What makes them act this way? Can they see getting the job done another way? Would they like to try? When we distill down to the fundamentals of how person A can best do job B, we simplify without reducing the problem to non-useful labels.

Furthermore, when we looked at why he was behaving as a “driver,” we uncovered more relevant issues of trust and anxiety, that once addressed and solved, transformed his behavior entirely and permanently.


Wouldn’t shifting an ongoing or chronic series of problems with a single solution be a positive and powerful way to simplify? This is where Re-Engineering really helps coaching. You won’t waste time clipping dandelions when we can take out a single root. Simplification maintaining substance.






Quick Communication Tip


Meta-Model the Situation

Meta-Modeling is described in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and used by successful negotiators as long as we’ve been bargaining over sea shells. To simplify how to implement it without reduction, let’s start with a simple premise. Meta-Modeling shifts your perspective like going up in a balloon, getting a more complete picture. In communication, it’s very much like factoring; finding common denominators in people.


When we are very young, we are very centered on “I, Me, and Mine,” and issues revolve around that worldview. As our consciousness evolves, we start to take on the worldview of “We and Us.” As you move further up in the hierarchy of criteria, it becomes more about us and less about me as well.


This is the high road in negotiation (and what isn’t negotiation?) What is best for us will always be more reasonable than what is best for me. Shift your perspective up to where you see a larger, more inclusive picture, and present that. When you are both on the same side of the net, there is no adversarial communication.




Resource Links:


Conscious Communication - the podcast series

Personal Life Media - "Coaching the Life Coach:"

Communication Excellence (Podcast Snippets)

Communication Excellence (full interview)

Interview for Entrepreneur Magazine Radio w/ Romanus Wolter

Interview Podcast for Evolutionary Radio w/ Jason McClain

Kind Ambition - 2nd Edition now available

Got Blog? come visit the Blog.  Rants and delvings for your entertainment.

Character Driven - Ever want to create characters that were so believable, that people forgot they were characters?




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