Part 2 of 14
- More isn’t always better
- Notice your first reaction to the story
- When in doubt, take it out
- Take out the thing you put in to manipulate people
- Elaborate designs showcase your fear
- There’s a simple trick to dealing with fear
People want to listen to intriguing stories.
People believe authority figures.
If you don’t want someone to see something, make them look somewhere else.
These things are good; therefore more of them are better.
Elaborate plans have lots of these things.
Therefore elaborate plans are better than simple plans.
The flaw here is assuming more is always better; it isn’t. The more stuff you have, the more opportunities that something will go wrong. Anything that can go wrong will. And anything that involves a lot of people can go sideways in an instant.
Too many distractions increase the chances that one will contradict another. Too much intrigue overwhelms and exhausts the audience. Too many authoritative things increase the chance that you’ll look pompous and boring. Or people will start questioning why you need to work so hard to prove your claim. Or it’ll waste time you should have spent with something useful.
Going overboard with intriguing distractions or authoritative proof hurts the argument more than it helps. But people add more stuff than they need because of fear.
Simplicity = terrifying
Simple plans are brave. They assume failure at the beginning and go ahead anyway. They make sure there’s a way to get back to the goal using the stuff they already have.
Elaborate plans assume success and abandon hope when the first details don’t work. They shove in newfangled details because there’s no confidence in the original. Or they do it to escape the ghosts of failure. Like the Winchester Mystery House.
Sometimes those details would work if you just pushed a little harder. Sometimes they work with other people, but not the first one you asked. Sometimes they work with the person you want to ask, but not on that day. But elaborate plans don’t trust that, so they try something else.
Simple plans don’t have something else. There’s no trick up your sleeve or magic incantation to make people do what you want. It’s just you and the bare hope of success.
Elaborate plans at least give you something to keep your mind off it for a while. Or they distract other people from your fear. Because if people are looking at X, they’re not looking at Y. And if they’re looking at lots of stuff, they’re more likely to believe one of those things.
Law of large numbers, and all that.
Simple plans don’t look authoritative. They don’t have fancy tools and confusing jargon that only an expert would know how to wield – thus existence of the tool is proof of expertise. They don’t force people to believe through 3 hour explanations of flowcharts and powerpoint slides.
Elaborate plans always have something to do, somewhere to be, something to say. But that’s mistaking motion for action. It’s mistaking speech for meaning. Because when you start looking at what action and meaning are, you realize that you have no idea what you’re doing, where you’re going, or how you’re going to keep the world from falling apart.
Simple plans don’t let you ignore the terror. That’s why normal people don’t use them. And that’s why we say that people who do use them are master strategists. It takes a lot of guts and awareness to pull off a simple plan.
What’s your first reaction to this story?
I have a story about competitive flower arranging. (Because I’m that kind of girl) My arrangement was a minimalist Japanese design, but everyone else in the show gave ornate, overpowering designs. I was terrified when I saw the monstrosities I was up against. I knew I was going to lose.
I thought I didn’t get the memo about what the judges were looking for. I thought it would look like I was lazy, or didn’t want to win. I thought I would look abnormal and everyone would hate me. So I put a geisha hair ornament in to spice it up. I had nowhere to put it, so I just laid it on the table.
It looked weird and the colors clashed.
I wanted to show the judges that I was conforming to the norm of ornateness, but I also wanted them to see my minimalist design esthetic. I agonized over that for about an hour. (Because I’m that kind of girl)
One of the Flower Show Dowagers saw my panic and came over. She put her arm around me and cooed “Sweetie pie, it’s taking a long time, isn’t it?” When she really meant “if it takes this long to make a decision, it means you don’t know what you’re doing.” (FSDs have a knack for beating the shit out of you in the nicest way possible.)
Then she said “when in doubt, take it out.” That’s good advice, but painfully unhelpful when you don’t know what to take out.
For my flower arrangements, it was always the thing that conformed to popularity but had no business being there. I put it in to make the judges think I listened to the prompt even though I went in a different direction. Or it was the new and exciting thing I couldn’t bear to part with, but distracted from the rest of the piece.
They were the things I put in to force people to react the way I wanted. (Because I’m that kind of girl) The plan was to win first place. I needed to convince them to give it to me. So I put in elements that I thought would convince them. (Anyone who doesn’t use that strategy wins contests by accident, nepotism, or blackmail.)
I agonized over taking out the bad elements because they represented something I was afraid to lose – like intrigue, authority, or conformity. If I gave them up, I would lose my authority to command the judges to give me the prize. I couldn’t win, so I would lose. But there’s a flaw – those judges were chosen because they know how to spot bullshit.
A bad design element is impossible to ignore and detracts from the entire piece.
An element exists either to improve the design or to distract from something bad.
A bad element does not improve the design, therefore it distracts from something bad.
It was a contest; the only bad thing there was fear of losing.
Therefore the element was a distraction from the fear of losing.
Judges know that and aren’t distracted; otherwise they wouldn’t be given the honor of judging.
Therefore, it would be impossible for the judges to not see my fear of losing if I left in a bad element.
Judges aren’t psychic. If they don’t see something pointing to fear, they don’t magically know. If they never saw the offending ornament, they have no choice but to assume I never intended to put it there. They would never know it existed at all. But if they do see it, they know exactly what it means.
The thing to take out was always the one that showcased my fear. But in taking it out, I had to confront the fear, accept that I was taking a step towards failure, and go ahead anyway.
This story had a happy ending – I won 1st place because the minimalist design was good in and of itself. But it was better without the clashing ornament.
Dealing with fear
Simplicity means taking out all the things that sound cool but really shouldn’t be there. Like geisha hair ornaments, or assuming Jester is exactly the same as everyone else, or that he’s less intelligent than the people trolling him, or that the world is a comforting, easy place to live.
Harsh, but true.
The easiest way to get through the fear is to carry on regardless. Sometimes things aren’t as terrible as they seem in your head. It’s not the end of the world to lose a flower arranging contest. It’s also not the end of the world to admit that Jester might not be as dumb as people want him to be.
His intelligence doesn’t make anyone else smarter or dumber, just like the other flower arrangements didn’t make my geisha ornament look better or worse within my own design. The ornament clashed, and nothing on the other side of the room was going to fix that. The design was an entity entirely unto itself.
So are you. It seems like Jester’s existence makes you look dumber in comparison, but it’s a false comparison. Intelligence, like design, is judged based on individual merits, not outside forces.
You don’t suddenly lose information because you’re standing next to someone with more. You don’t gain information because you’re standing next to someone with less. You have exactly the same amount of information in your head as you did before because nothing inside you changed.
And expertise in one area doesn’t mean total world domination. It’s reasonable to assume I know more about microbiology than Jester does. (Maybe not. Maybe he took classes in bioterrorism. I only had one) That doesn’t make me smarter overall, or better at anything other than telling cool stories about zombie ants and magnetic bacteria.
There’s no way to compare microbiology to computer programming, just like there’s no way to compare an ornate flower arrangement to a minimalist one. They each have to be assessed by themselves, on the solidity of their own achievements. So it doesn’t hurt my soul to know that Jester is better than me at something.
Comparing the two indicates an overarching fear of losing something. But you don’t lose intelligence unless you have a neurological disaster. I realize that a tweet can make someone feel stupid, but that’s not a stroke. That’s the realization that you’re not the smartest person out of 7 billion people in this world.
Making the pain stop
It only hurts when he’s better at something you care about; for me, that’s social engineering. I can look at it as a way to learn from him, or a reason to sulk under the covers about how much I suck. Guess which one I chose. It actually isn’t that hard.
You just admit that he’s not a Wild and Windy Typhoonigator determined to suck the intelligence out of you. And even if he were, he doesn’t have a magic brain-sucking ray gun.
Dealing with fear is hard, and no one can really tell you how to do it. There are thousands of witty quotes about how action is the best remedy for fear. If you just get up and start going, it doesn’t look so bad anymore.
But that’s painfully unhelpful when you’re too paralyzed to think straight, or if something new comes in after you start, or if you’re halfway through and still afraid. When that happens, ask yourself why you care so damn much.
The world doesn’t end if someone doesn’t like a flower arrangement. It’s just something pretty to look at, or something to make someone else feel comfortable, or a way to get status in a group you care about. It’s a prop used to get something you want. Everyone is in competition with someone, and everyone is a judge of something.
If your first response to this example was “why the hell would she care about a stupid flower show? That’s nothing to be afraid of!” or “what’s the big deal? If the ornament doesn’t belong there, just take it out” or “who cares what FSDs think?” then you have the ability to free yourself from fear.
All you have to do is see how your problem is a judged flower arrangement, and then tell yourself that you’re whatever kind of girl you thought I was. (I’m actually this kind of girl *huggles*)
Most of life is flower arrangements. People just use different kinds of flowers.
Other posts in this series
What’s with the elaborate ruse fetish?
The simple trick to deal with fear
Your way takes an hour, mine takes 40 seconds
How to choose between two opposing sides
Some people aren’t that dumb
How to make people love you
Accusations of fraud aren’t really that bad
How to create a legacy
How to deal with being wrong
How to create freedom
Social Engineering isn’t that hard
How to fit in without losing your soul
Haters gotta hate, poets gotta poetate
The easiest way for Jester-doxers to be heroes