You Earn the Right to Simplify

In a conversation with a friend recently, we talked about how professionals deep in their careers are able to take in a wide range of information and find the piece that matters most. They can simplify everything down to only the most important elements. Short 1-2 sentence emails, a quick yes or no, and brief phone calls. All in an effort to simplify complex problems and manage their busy schedule.

My question to him was, is that something I should start doing today? Or, do I need to earn the right to simplify?

He told me I’m in the career stage where I need to be nice to people. I need to say “have a great day” at the end of my emails, show detailed analysis of any considered problem to show I’ve done the work, and find more polite ways of saying difficult, but honest, feedback. As I become more experienced, and busier, this can be allowed to evolve and streamline. 

But I must first earn the right to simplify. Professionals who simplify today are only able to do so because of the years of experience backing up their conviction in key ideas. Similar to the story of the famous painter who creates a new painting in a few moments, charges the customer a premium price, and the customer feels ripped off for something that seemingly happened so quickly and easily. But the painter responds saying the dedication, time, and experience of a lifetime of painting are what allowed such rapid creation.

I asked him how much of simplification was a matter of them having more experience versus operating in a tight calendar, forcing concise communication. After our discussion, my conclusion is they are inseparable and one comes from the other. As you become more experienced and move deeper into your career, your professional network and responsibilities increase. More experience begets a busier schedule, forcing quick bursts of communication and analysis. 

Now, if you’re as productivity focused as I am, you’d naturally ask, “how can I accelerate this process to become a more efficient communicator?” I still don’t have a clear cut conclusion and my suspicion is it can be done, but only to a small extent. You can try to pack in extra years of experience into your life through more projects, multiple jobs, and so on. But even that can only get you so far since more responsibilities dilute your ability to focus and learn deeply. I suspect this is not a process to be accelerated, rather a journey to be enjoyed and a destination welcomed at the right time.

Capital Notes:

  • Matt Hinson has been writing more actively on Substack and since each of his articles are so good I’m going to link to all of them here and let you explore.
  • For those going through, or about to go through due diligence, Permanent Equity wrote an excellent piece about it.
  • I’ve begun following Slate Star Codex (and the new blog location, Astral Codex Ten) more closely and came across this article on Nonfiction Writing Advice deep in the archive. For any of you SSC readers out there, would love to learn more about how Scott Alexander can write so much, so consistently, so frequently, over such a long period of time. I’d love to write more and if you have insights to share on Scott’s process, I’d love to chat. There’s part of the answer in this Reddit thread to get me started.


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