“Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.” C. W. Ceran
I consider myself to be a somewhat intelligent person, but when someone explains a new concept to me in terms that are overly complex and unfamiliar, I struggle to easily grasp it. To learn a new concept, I need things described in a way that I can relate them to something I am already familiar with. For example, when I was a young CEO starting a software company, I needed to learn about computer hardware so I could speak intelligently on the subject. I asked my IT employees to teach me, and they proceeded to explain to me that computers were made up of a hard drive that stored gigabytes of data, Random Access Memory (RAM), a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and so on. They may as well have been speaking Chinese to me at that point, because although I could hear the words they were saying, I couldn’t relate them to anything that was familiar to me. I left the room feeling discouraged and frustrated.
Desperate to understand computer hardware, I turned to my younger brother who was revered as a genius on computers. I expressed to him how lost I felt at the technical words being thrown out at me, and I begged him to find a way to dumb it down into terms I could understand. What he described to me next was nothing short of amazing. He told me to pretend that the local library was the computer box itself. He explained that in the library were racks of shelves holding books and each of these racks was representative of gigabytes of hard drive storage. The more gigabytes of space, the more racks of books your computer shelves could hold. He explained that the table in the library where I sat to read my book was like the computer’s RAM. The size of the table, or the amount of RAM, determined the number of open books I could have open on my table to view at one time. He shared that the computer’s CPU was like my brain in the library directing my body to do tasks, such as getting a book off the shelf, opening the book, reading the book, etc. The more cores the CPU had the more tasks (known as threads) I could perform simultaneously. He went on to describe the rest of the computer’s hardware in this same fashion.
Everything he said made perfect sense. He had taken a very complicated subject and made it into the simplest. His ability to simplify the subject didn’t make him less intelligent; it made him a genius!
That experience taught me that the best proof of someone’s intelligence is their ability to simplify the complex. During my years as a CEO I observed that people who are confident in their knowledge wouldn’t hesitate to share it with others in terms that are easily understood. Whereas, people who attempt to talk over people’s heads through the use of overly complex terms and descriptions were typically those who lack a true understanding of the subject themselves and are trying to mask that fact.
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” – Albert Einstein
Too often, people over-complicate things in business in an attempt to display their intelligence, when in reality they end up pushing people away and ultimately losing credibility. They come off as an elitist, rather than a team player. Truly intelligent people are not afraid to share their knowledge because they don’t view other people gaining knowledge as a threat to their own. Rather, they take pleasure in sharing and teaching others. As a result they become builders of people, and they contribute tremendously to a company’s overall success.
One of the most common areas where complicating things will kill a company is sales. Keeping the sales pitch simple and directly focused on how it will impact the customer’s life for the better is the best way to make a sale. Sales people in general tend to spend too much time focusing the conversation on themselves, their product, or their company rather than focusing on how their product or service will directly benefit the customer. The moment they get too technical and complex is the moment they start to lose the sale. A perfect example of how to simplify a sale is the way Apple AAPL -0.06% sells its iPods. Rather than focusing on the number of gigabytes the iPod has, Apple focuses their sales pitch on the number of songs the iPod will hold because that is a personal benefit that is simple for every potential customer to understand.
We have all heard the phrase, “Keep it simple, stupid.” The truth is that keeping it simple requires confidence and humility. We can all benefit if we can recognize that we don’t have to talk like a super genius to be seen as intelligent. There is tremendous genius in our ability to keep it simple. Don’t ever forget that many of the world’s most difficult problems have been solved with the simplest solutions.