When In Doubt: Delete

People have known about effective communication for a long time, here is one of the best and earliest expressions of it, by Blaise Pascal in 1656.

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

And, here is my implementation of that rule: Delete things that aren’t important.

Delete key

Definitions #

In general communications, verbosity is bad. Conciseness is good. By nature, I’m verbose. So, to become a better communicator, I’ve had to actually think and practice at it. It’s all about clarity, which is balancing accuracy, precision.

Here is a statement that is entirely accurate, and only a little precise: George H.W. Bush was born in Massachusetts.

Here is a statement that is precise, but not entirely accurate: George H.W. Bush was born in a Seattle, a rural community in western Washington. President Bush spent his days galavanting around the oil fields and cranberry bogs.

Example #

The most success I’ve had with this is when I’m making blanket statements about software to non-technical people. I’ll illustrate it with an example from real life.

The original ‘bad clarity’ version of a statement:

When we prop code (that’s what we call it when we deploy), we typically have no downtime. In the last 2 years, we’ve only had one prop with an issue that caused downtime. When we prop, a controlled fraction of our servers are taken out of service and updated, so it all happens transparently to the user.

Here is a ‘good clarity’ version:

When we deploy a new feature to the website, we have no downtime.

This is clarity in action. The sentence is not 100% accurate, but it’s probably 99.9% accurate. And, by reducing the precision we’ve increased the clarity 1000-fold.

Final Thoughts #

One caveat to all of this: when precision matters, don’t sacrifice! Sometimes you need to be very verbose… just recognize your audience and your message.

I recognize that this is a long-winded post on being concise and clear. The irony is not lost on me. I’m just trying to write this down as fast as possible. If I had more time, I would have written a short blog post.

Small side story: the name for this blog was born as my coworkers were mocking me for being too verbose, or Verbadam as it became known as.

Anyways: if you’re verbose like me, delete unnecessarily precise stuff.

Discuss on HackerNews



Now read this

Assume You’re Wrong

I was at PayScale for a little over 7. I’ve had some really incredible mentors along the way, and after several years, I’ve synthesized a lot of my learning into one simple sentence: Assume You’re Wrong. I started taking this philosophy... Continue →