The one about brevity

Hello!

Welcome to Salmon Theory, a newsletter about philosophy, strategy and hope.

I’m Rob. Thank you for your attention. Let’s do this.


🔍 Here’s the thing

Here’s a quote from Nietzsche.

"My ambition is to say in 10 sentences what everyone else says in a book."

Yeah, me too.

The end.

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Naaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Though actually, yes, sort of.

Here’s the thing about working in strategy.

We often get into it because we love reading about everything.

And solving problems.

But that same quality can often become our very downfall.

Because we end up reading about anything.

And finding problems anywhere.

But there’s a difference between reading lots and finding problems…

… and knowing what to read, and when.

And how to define the main problem out of the bunch.

This last part feels important – the definition part.

You see, writing a comprehensive point of view on something is easy.

It takes time, and research, and patience, but if you have those things it’s easy.

Because you have the luxury of exploring a thing in multi-faceted ways.

And you may come across three, four, five main problems that need solving.

The hard part?

Having limited time and budget, which means you gotta choose.

You may know a lot about it, but five problems is not enough.

You need one problem to solve at a time.

Which one do you choose?

This is where curiosity alone feels like… not really enough.

You also need a powerful ability to be clear about what we’re trying to do.

Dare I even say, to be… brief.

It’s fucking logical, of course it is.

But how many times have we gone down a rabbit hole that we forget how to come out?

How many times have we assumed whoever we’re presenting to has all the context?

Or – perhaps worst – we assume they don’t, so we spend ages getting to the point?

This is a burden of strategy, and it’s a burden of philosophy.

The other week I read a compelling argument about the shape of philosophical ideas.

Is it more important to have deep and often impenetrable essays about an idea?

Or are we better off relying on collections of aphorisms and heuristics?

Of course, this is a false duality.

The essays are often built in this way because they are submitted for peer approval.

(Even if informally, but that shit’s important for academic folk.)

But for the rest of us, the aphorisms might be fine.

Partly because it means we don’t need to read things that frustrate us.

(Many philosophy books frustrate me.)

Partly because we can apply a simple heuristic to how we relate to knowledge.

If we remember it, it’s probably worth remembering.

If we don’t, it might have not been that important.

At least not right now.

So an aphorism, by virtue of being memorable, gains long-term value.

Same with strategy.

Do we need to go through essay-long volumes of research?

Of course – so we can explore multiple angles around it.

So we can make sure our point of view can stand against scrutiny.

But as far as the actual recommendation goes?

We’re better off learning from the wisdom of aphorisms.

This is why I love simple ways of articulating a strategy.

“From X to Y” is a fantastic one to lay down our ambition and principles.

“Now / next” is another version of this that also works.

“Because everyone does X, we’re doing Y” is a fantastic way to de-position others.

“Our strategy in four simple steps” works wonders to wrap up a long presentation.

There are many more, but these often do wonders for me.

Many of us got into this job because we love the variety of it.

Fair enough, curiosity is a wonderful quality to have.

But in our pursuit of more ideas and knowledge, we often forget a corollary.

That reading or being able to write lots about something is only part of the equation.

The other part is about being able to dissect it into the core tenets of the thing.

Knowing there are many problems to solve, but here’s why this one matters right now.

Knowing that more words inversely correlate with the amount of impact per word.

It’s culturally acceptable to aspire for more on all walks of life.

But at least on this particular thing, the art of defining problems and developing ideas?

There’s incalculable value in aspiring for less.

So, a question for you.

How do you practice brevity in your line of work?


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Stay safe. Stay sane.

Send replies, I like hearing from you. 😘

Rob

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