Communication: Clarity and Efficiency, Precision and Beauty

How good are you at getting your message across? Can you do it with precision and clarity? Can you do it in a way that captures the listener and compels action?

These will be increasingly important skills in the future. In a world flooded with noise, the ability to create a clean signal is highly valuable.

Efficiency

First of all, this is about efficiency: the ability to communicate a clear and unambiguous message in the minimum number of characters.

Twitter has made this a daily test for millions of people, and it is not easy.

Twitter’s enforced 140 character limit makes it challenging to communicate a clear point in a compelling fashion. Users have developed their own syntax to address that challenge.

By keeping everyone’s messages short, Twitter has allowed people to scan a huge amount of information and opinion in a very short space of time. This is highly valuable in this noisy world, and the reason that so many people use Twitter as readers more than writers. But this value is threatened by reports that Twitter may be further extending its character limit.

Precision

Precision is often lacking in workplace communication. This seems a particularly acute problem here in the UK. I wonder if this is one of the causes of our low productivity.

Our manners often prevent us from being direct about what we want, meaning briefs from manager to staff, and from client to supplier, are often much woollier than they should be. Our culture means that staff member and supplier are often unwilling to challenge the woolly brief, so instead throw themselves into the work with gusto, becoming ‘busy fools’ and wasting everyone’s time and money.

In a ‘gig economy’ where the ability to brief a job in clearly and comprehend (and challenge) this brief are vital, the lack of these skills will be increasingly apparent.

Clarity

Clarity too is an issue. There’s a meme floating around Facebook at the moment (again) about some research purportedly from Cambridge University (it isn’t) showing that we can still understand words if the middle letters are jumbled. It’s nonsense (as this page points out), but there’s an interesting idea often made as part of the post: spelling and grammar don’t really matter as long as the message is carried across.

My issue with this idea comes back to the signal to noise ratio. The Diversity vector in our Intersections methodology proposes that technology drives the creation of more stuff. More channels of communication. And more people and companies with access to those channels of communication. Meaning more noise.

Filtering the signals we want from that noise is going to be hard enough without the extra computational and mental overhead of dealing with unclear communication. We may be able to understand some jumbled and misspelled words, and extract the meaning from poorly punctuated sentences. But that doesn’t mean it is easy: our brains have to work harder to do so, and so will our computers.

We should always aim for clarity in communication, for everyone’s sake.

Beauty

What none of these exhortations speak to though is beauty in communication. There is an inherent beauty in a perfectly constructed statement: one that is clear and concise. But it is only enhanced when it contains great rhythm, description or humour.

If we achieve clarity, efficiency and precision in our communications at work, tomorrow’s world will certainly be a more efficient, more productive place. And I believe the combined effects of social networks like Twitter, and exposure to imported aspects of the gig economy like Fiverr, will start to reinforce these values.

But we also need to consider the value of beauty in our communications. Its power to engage and compel, excite and entertain. Signals stand out most from the noise when they are imbued with this uniquely human quality in language.

The Three Cs

In consulting engagements we talk often about the Three Cs: the abilities to

  • Curate: discover and qualify information
  • Create: synthesise something new from that information
  • Communicate: to sell those ideas to colleagues and customers

These we believe are the crucial skills for tomorrows worker.

The skill of communication has many components, both technical and creative. But we should never underestimate the value of beauty.

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Tom Cheesewright