Today on the plane the pilot did his usual spiels and it made me angry – again. Not, clench-my-fist angry, just how-did-it-come-to-this? angry.
Maybe I react like this because I recognise my own profession in the stupidity of it all. Why do professions use language that is, unnecessarily convoluted, essentially talking about what they are interested in rather than the recipients of the communication?
We were informed that we had a long taxi and would take off on runway ‘one nine’. There’s only one runway at Brisbane! Derrr. How was that information supposed to be either interesting or helpful?
“We’ll be cruising at 39,000 feet”. Really, how fascinating? Felt much more like 37,000 to me! Might be important for you so you don’t stack us into another plane at 38,000, but frankly it doesn’t really interest me. Maybe I’m over-reacting? But, no, I think there is something in this for all of us.
Jargon, or technical language is useful and perhaps even necessary for those who have a deeper knowledge about a particular domain. It helps us talk in short hand. But as soon as the audience comprises of people from beyond the clique of the experts, let’s stop using language that makes us sound smart but ultimately is for our own benefit rather than our audience.
“Would a 10 year old understand it?” is probably not a bad test. More importantly, what would said 10 year old want to know about what I’m telling them? In Simplicity Edward de Bono explains how real intelligence doesn’t hide behind technical language. He goes further to suggest that our failure to use simple language that our audience can identify with actually betrays a mediocre understanding of the subject matter.
That rings true for me. Don’t you love it when someone explains ideas or concepts typically deemed complex in easy to understand terms. Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything or Ross Gittin’s Gitten’s Guide to Economics are great examples. No wonder the “ …. for Dummies” series is so popular. Way underrated I reckon. Authoring one should be a badge of honour, just like being a Play School presenter is to actors.
I read this recently which talked a little about this. Great post as always, Col 🙂
Great article Steve, thanks for sharing … although I actually disagree with the sentiment in the last sentence. Maybe not ‘a few’ words, but I wouldn’t give up on ‘simple’ words.