Monday, December 10, 2012

Why you need to depth

Another one of Seth's Blog posts hits home. From

Too simple

If the explanations you're demanding for what works aren't working, perhaps it's because you're avoiding nuance in exchange for simplicity.

It would take Lee Clow far more than five minutes to explain how to design an ad that works. Clive Davis didn't have the words to tell you what would make a hit record. Even the ostensibly simple food of Alice Waters can't be easily copied by an amateur.

And yet your boss keeps asking you to explain your whole plan in three Powerpoint slides.

The VC who allocates one minute to understand why your business will work has done everyone no favors. The blog reader who clicks away after a paragraph wasted his time visiting at all.

Skip the complicated, time-consuming part at your own risk. The cycle of test and failure works largely because it exposes us to nuance.

If it were obvious, everyone would do it. Wait, that's too simple. How about this: Nuance and subtlety aren't the exception in changing human behavior. They're the norm.


How true is this in the Navy? Some examples of what I've heard or seen:

- Sum up all that in two slides
- I don't need all the details.
- Just give me the executive overview.

There is something to be said about being straight to the point. There is also something to be said about being uninformed...namely, that uninformed people are morons.

I run the Information Dominance Warfare Officer (IDWO) qualification program at my command. The PQS is actually really well designed, and it has all the references listed, and although finding them is a pain sometimes, you at least know what to look for. Despite this, it's amazing to me how many officers don't sit down and read the applicable sections of the references. I hear an amazing number of excuses, but most revolve around not having enough time...yet these are the same people I catch screwing around on Facebook or taking 1.5 hour lunches.

Most people enjoy being the go-to guy or gal. When everyone comes to you because you are the expert, not only is that a big boost to your ego, but it makes for a great FITREP bullet and real accomplishment at your command. Yet so many people want all the glory with none of the work. Maybe it's because they got by in high school, college, and Navy schools by doing the minimum, reading the slides and studying the gouge. True knowledge though, requires you to hunker down and read references, dig further and find out the real answers. You can't get that from a powerpoint slide, and you can't get that from someone elses gouge.

When you think about it, gouge binders and dumbed-down explanations have a terrible multiplicative effect. If you sum up something on a slide, you may only get 80% of the answer. Then, when someone studies it, they may only understand 80% of that, and if they explain it to someone, that person only gets 80%. Suddenly, the third person here gets 0.8x0.8x0.8 = 51.2%, barely half of the information.

If you instead go to the reference, you may only remember 80% of what you read...but it's 80% of 100% of the knowledge. Plus, if it spurs you to read somewhere else, you end up with 90-95% of the answer. The bigger gain here is that over time, your 95% knowledge may fade, but it fades to 80%, whereas the gouge studier fades off to less than half very quickly.

Real smarts requires hard work and a lot of reading. If your knowledge comes from dumbed-down powerpoints, you'll never be smarter than the powerpoint slide producer.