The Secret to Leadership Part 2: Simplicity is Sticky


June 19, 2017 by
The Secret to Leadership Part 2:  Simplicity is Sticky

Early in my career, it became apparent that I needed to change my communication style to grow as a leader. I started as a software engineer, a role that is focused on details and accuracy. My communication style followed suit — I would engage in lengthy discussions about binary marshalling vs. xml service calls, the timing of object instantiation, garbage collection, threading, and all of the “-abilities” (scalability, maintainability, extensibility, etc.). Within months, I had become fluent in the language of software engineering.

In addition to my “engineering speak” I was also becoming quite proficient with “consultanese”. For example, “I would assert that we could quickly ascertain the ability to achieve synergistic efficiencies as our disparate teams pursue their deliverables…all while focused on the realization of stakeholder goals while achieving KPI’s…”

Clear and concise, right?!

Let’s look at a musical analogy

I first heard this story from Doug Keely (The Mark of a Leader). It struck a chord with me, so I want to share it with you as well.

In the 1940s, Charlie “Bird” Parker was pioneering a new Jazz style called bebop. This new style pushed the limits of technique and speed beyond what others had imagined. Bird became known for playing blisteringly fast tempos and complex chord changes that would quickly sort out the real players from the wannabes.

Turn up your speakers and have a listen as “Bird” plays “Kim”.

Wow! It is a technical masterpiece…but can you hum it? Is it memorable or sticky?

Four Distinct Notes
What if I told you that you could identify a song that had only four distinct notes? Listen to the bass line (answer is at the end of this post):

Did you get it?

One Distinct Note
How about a song that begins with only one distinct note?

One note played an octave apart. Good luck getting that one out of your mind today!

Simplicity is Sticky

Similar to Birds technical masterpiece, my communication was technically right on. But it wasn’t memorable or inspirational. I realized that leaders need to distill complex ideas into concepts that are memorable and repeatable. We must create clarity from ambiguity; simplicity from complexity. Leaders need to make the idea sticky.

We must not “dumb down” the idea. On the contrary, our communication needs to convey the full scope of the complex idea. However, it must be delivered as a simple, memorable and sticky message. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry understood this concept as he said “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Evaluate how you are communicating and remember, Simplicity is Sticky!

If you need help making your communication simple and sticky, please contact us. We can help you transform your leadership communication!


Four distinct notes: With Or Without You (U2)
One distinct note: My Sharona (the Knack)