NC Weekly 11: Amplification through simplification – When to simplify and when to keep it real

(Note: This post was initially published as part of my newsletter. )

Hey, hope you had an amazing week. I’ve been enjoying some time with family in Italy and I got to see a ton of friends after a really long time.

Gradually getting out of this lockdown has been a bit like coming out of hibernation for all of us. Even some of my friends who were ruthless loners were compelled by some kind of herd instinct to get their ass off the couch and hang out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big loner too most of the times, but it’s nice to see everybody and share lockdown tales after the past 4 months. For us these tales revolved around our fitness and work routines, our canceled travel plans, past decisions and the uncertain future.

Something stood out in our chats: all of us have one or two main themes guiding our lives at any given moment. We tend to skip details because we want to make a precise point on what matters to us. For some it’s work, because they just changed careers, for some others it’s relationships or friends and holidays. It’s pretty amazing how we can communicate what we care about, by focusing our message on it and leaving out the rest.

What comics can teach us about focus

At the core of comics, there’s the concept of “amplification through simplification”. By stripping down images to their essential meaning, comic artists are able to amplify that meaning.

(Image from “Understanding comics” by Scott McClud)

You’re not really eliminating details. You’re actually focusing on those details.

It’s why icons in web design work so well to help readers quickly skim through a homepage. Simple visual representations help give meaning to the copy.

It’s also why a site like Draw a stick man can be so memorable with its stories (go ahead and try one now!).

Simple + uncertain= ?

All of this gets interesting when we deal with uncertainty. Should we dumb things down to better navigate it or should we try to understand the complexity behind it in more detail?

As Taylor Pearson writes

reality has a surprising amount of detail lying below the surface. Failure to appreciate this often results in the creation of hidden risk

In other words, are we really getting the most out of our lives when we simplify and focus on one thing? Or are we just manipulating reality so (at least in our minds) it matches what we want it to be ?

I think we should strike a balance between that and the understanding that reality is actually very messy and complicated.

For example, I know that focusing on my burpee and pushup routine allows me to workout almost my entire body in a very simple and efficient way. But I also know that it’s not enough. I also have to go running and do some pullups.

This also reminds me of the 80/20 rule. There are 20% of things that make up for 80% of the results so we should naturally focus on that 20%. BUT the remaining 80% that gives us the last 20% (the details) is important too, if we strive for top performance and not just the average.

In some recent studies about how people search online, they noticed that people act in a particular and predictable way.

While searching for information, people are often satisficers rather than maximizers: they settle for information that is good enough to answer their question, but isn’t necessarily the best or most complete answer.

I really think in life we should balance between being satisficers and maximizers. There’s always a great way to simplify things to a certain point that gives us high rewards. But that’s not the full picture and we should be aware of it.


Here are this week’s top finds:

Written

Taking moonshots

  • Alasdair writes about attempting things and adjusting our trajectory over time. Really great visual way of thinking about the concept.

Audio

Monsters – The Midnight

  • I’ve been listening to their new album since it came out last week. If you like electronic, atmospheric music with a touch of 80s, this is your next jam.

Video

Soft White Underbelly Youtube channel

  • My brother just linked this to me today. It’s an amazing channel where the guy interviews people of all kinds, mostly misfits to tell their unheard stories and create awareness. “Soft White Underbelly interviews and portraits of the human condition by photographer, Mark Laita.”. Mind opening.