Communicating What’s Important

On a recent flight from Chicago to New York, I realized that there is a lot of important information to process when traveling.  There’s also a lot of unimportant information – noise.  I sat in the emergency row, so I had even more to process than some of the other passengers (e.g., the emergency exit door weighs 50 pounds and it needs to be completely removed prior to exiting).

What struck me is that even in an environment where certain information is so critically important — life and death in some instances — the airline also muddied the water with frivolous information.  Interspersed with “what to do in case of a water landing,” for example, I learned that I was flying on a McDonnell Douglas S80 aircraft and that we would be flying at 31,000 feet.  My immediate reaction: “Why are you telling me this?”  These are two pieces of information that are completely irrelevant, unimportant, and distracting.  That’s the problem – distraction.   By including this distracting information, the airline runs the risk of passengers missing the important stuff.   How much did that door weigh, again?

The same applies in your organization.  If you clutter your message with frivolous information, there’s an increased chance that people will miss what you really want them to know.  To increase the likelihood that you’ll effectively communicate what’s important, think “simple and minimal.”

“Simple” is about making things easy to understand.  Speak or write in plain language, not KM jargon.  Use as few words as possible to effectively communicate your message.  When writing for the web, or your Intranet, remember: people don’t read – they skim the content.  Make it short, sweet, and skim-able.

Steve Jobs, the Master of Simplicity, relayed the idea when he said, “This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And, we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us, no company is.  And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”  He wasn’t talking about internal communications, but rather about marketing Apple’s products.  Nevertheless, the same principle applies.  Keep it simple.

“Minimalism” is about eliminating distractions.  As eloquently stated by Joshua Becker in his book, Simplify, “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things that we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”  Like Jobs, Becker wasn’t referring to internal communications, but again, the principle applies.  Effective communication is clear, concise, and uncluttered.

For more about simplicity, minimalism, and communication, check out Knowledge Management and the Simple Stick.

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