I’ve known it for years: that all great ideas derive from beer—or at least television commercials for beer. Though for my purposes here, perhaps a better version of this slogan would be “Great Discussion, Less Text”.
As we continue to develop the format of our printed discussion reports to make them more accessible and useful in actual discussions, we’re considering further limiting the amount of text—for a variety of reasons:
- To create room on the page for personal notes
- To create room for other media—pictures or other graphics
- Because plainer language just takes less space (shorter sentences, words), and
- Because—as we’re often reminded—people are busy, attention spans are short, and reading large blocks of text just doesn’t compete well with the likes of UTube’s Annoying Orange or Keyboard Cat.
I’d like to suggest another reason.
While we need to describe each possibility well enough to orient readers to the general policy ideas, we also need to leave some undeveloped or unpainted areas so they can develop or paint part of the picture themselves. That is, if our goal was only to convey information, we could strive to fill in all the details and blank space, leaving no ambiguity for the reader. But if—as I hope is the case—our goal is to provide a starting point, or catalyst, for the readers’ own discussion, then we need to invite them to fill out some of the rest of the page or picture with their own ideas. To do otherwise—to fill in all the blanks—is like inviting someone to play a game, say basketball or Call of Duty Black Ops (selected game/rules provide the context or general idea), and then further specifying all the game play and who wins. Kind of misses the whole point.
Though admittedly it doesn’t derive from or apply to beer, my colleague Dennis Boyer said it first—and no doubt better—with the axiom that sometimes “less is more.”