Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Being Simply Beautiful

When I think of being simply beautiful I think of my friend, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye. I think of the power and simplicity of her words and gentle spirit, though wrapped in an undeniable fierceness for the cause of life and liberty. I think of the short unpretentious sentences of another great poet, one of my favorites, e.e. cummings. But language does not necessarily have to have a few sentences to be simply beautiful, though it greatly depends on the audience, environment, and the intended message.

I can think of a many great writers of beauty that have captured my heart wholeheartedly through sentences that seem to go on forever. Proust is one of these. For his purposes, he is the best. But when it comes to the language of management and processes, does such language produce unnecessary complications? Even with Proust, there is undoubtedly an inescapable complicated messy life process, for those who have come after him, who gleaned from the beauty of his writing, but did not necessarily create such endless fluid lines, though their writings are also memorable. Proust, however, is timeless. My point simply put: Shorter lines in and of themselves do not engender beauty or a better process or outcome. What engender these things is having gone through some things (complications, nonetheless) in order to create simply beautiful things.

Now, how is all this applicable to how we do what we do in work environments? In comments on other blogs there is talk of simplicity and how it affects outcome. There is talk about the necessity of less complicated policy manuals, website transactions etc. I agree completely that most of this stuff is just asinine, unreadable, and therefore not actionable. I completely agree that most policy manuals are too long and not easily understood. I agree with Tom Peters: "Keep it simple! (Damn it!) No matter how 'sophisticated' the product. If you can't explain it in a phrase, a page, or to your 14-year-old ... you haven't got it right yet."

Just the other day after meeting with a lawyer to see if my simple two-page housing application was solid, my business partner, a brilliant engineer and inventor, stock trader, and senior executive at one of the Top 100, returned with an 18 page document that caused me to blow a gasket! (Perhaps, not the best reaction!?) To my utter dismay, he and the lawyer lengthened the document to "protect our interest" by 16 pages! Whose interest? Our interest? We would lose potential clients. I couldn't believe it! I don't know ONE client who would have appreciated filling out such a document!

This was RIDICULOUS! What it would do is bottle up the process, one that we've been having great success. It would also waste my time and I wasn't having it. It was soon determined that my simply created document had all the stuff of the longer one. Uh...yeah! After many different kinds of businesses (failures mostly) including real estate, and dealing with people on many different levels, I thought that I had covered all the basis. Lawyers! Can't live with them and don't necessarily want to live without them -- well, maybe fewer of them.

Having said the above, I must also say that I would like to believe that my two-page document is simply beautiful not because it is two pages, but because it embodies all the necessities, is well written, and is easily understood and enacted. Simple is beautiful when these things occur. Also, in writing, no matter the document, it is always so important to know your audience. This colors much.

Being simply beautiful can be seen in any writing, for any audience, where others take notice and simply wish to change, without being told that change is needed.


Steve Yastrow said...

Judith - How true! The irony of writing and speaking is that words weigh down communication. Using the fewest words possible is always better.

judith ellis said...

Hi Steve! Thanks for stopping by. Fewer words are better in most situations. Some would like to take an editing pen to Proust, but I wouldn't. Remembrance of Things Past is sheer timeless beauty as is.

Regarding policy manuals, website procedures, and the like, "the fewer words possible is always better." Word useage is also important. But there is no real need to paint pictures with manuals. The beauty here can be found in clarity.

John O'Leary said...

Funny, I was just thinking about ee cummings and my favorite poem...

"anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did"

judith ellis said...