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Martial arts, modern music and the minerals tax: an essay on simplicity

June 15, 2011

A friend texted me the other day, asking why business writing had to be so succinct and, in his view, unimaginative. A good question, and one we might all ask (even if we aren’t having an argument with a colleague about it).

I told him that the reason for writing sparely and concisely is that we don’t want to detract from the message we are sending.

After all, you are writing to make a point, not to impress someone with your eloquence (and it’s a bonus if you achieve the latter as well).

My friend thinks this is unfair, as it stifles creativity. But I’d argue that business writing is harder and requires more creativity than laying a flowery stream of consciousness down on a page.

It’s like if you watch a Steven Seagal fight – his movements are always understated and seemingly effortless. He can break a dude’s neck and make it look like he’s just shaking his hand. Clear, concise writing is the same.

And while I sometimes rail against the inanity of modern music, pop songs have the simplicity thing perfected.

Browse the list of best-selling songs of all time, and you’ll see ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ – a story of teenaged sexual longing and desire. ‘Like a Virgin, touched for the very first time’ – a story of the redemptive power of love and a reclamation of female sexuality. ‘Just Dance’ – a decadent rejection of the cares of modern life and an invitation to hedonism.

You can say a lot in very few words.

One of the alternatives is a self-indulegent rant that loses the audience through its lack of clarity. Yesterday’s Australian shared this gem:

“Throughout its traumatic, politically costly gestation the constitutionality of the commonwealth’s half-baked aspiration to tax minerals has been the iron ore elephant in this struggling federal government’s policy locker.”

I believe it’s an Andrew Forrest quote, which the columnist describes as ‘delightfully jumbled flair’. WTF? There is nothing delightful about hackneyed phrases, tortured syntax and mixed metaphors.

And when it comes down to it, who would you rather model your creative style on? Give me John Lennon and Paul McCartney any day.


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