How Using Shorter Words Makes you Cleverer

Posted by Karen Gadd on 11 Aug 2021
Karen Gadd
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Beware of using words, acronyms or abbreviations which you don’t understand – or have forgotten the meaning of – one word can lose you your hard won credibility.

I still blush remembering one session I was presenting on team work and the importance of trust – a non English speaker asked me what ubiquitous* meant – and when I admitted I couldn’t remember, he closed his folder, got up and left. After that I stopped using such words and started working with cartoonist Clive Goddard which helped to deliver instant understanding to everyone. 

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One refresher quiz we play at engineering problem solving sessions is on acronyms – most UK Engineers can expand things like LASER / JEEP / SCUBA / NASA / SPF / CAPTCHA / AWOL / YOLO / IQ / SIM / KISS and my generation can also do TARDIS. Often it only me who can do TRIZ in the original Russian, which like most other acronyms doesn’t matter, as long as we all understand, not just their meaning but also what they can deliver.

Acronyms are short cuts and helpful but don’t assume everyone understands your acronyms – always translate them. I spent one high level defence meeting in a state of confusion as they discussed the importance of getting the rights SMEs on board – as I was thinking about small companies and they meant Subject Matter Experts. 

One rule of TRIZ is to keeps all words and phrases as simple as possible so communication is clear, memorable and everyone understands immediately. Sadly, Technical and Business Jargon is going in the opposite direction making everything harder for everyone – forcing us to use our precious time and brainpower working out their real meanings.

Much time is wasted by teams eddying about with too many words, inappropriate detail and a propensity to explain things in 3 different ways. Simplicity means getting it right and understood first time.

Innovation blockers include anything needlessly long and boring, especially in emails and documents, and in-person at meetings, presentations, conferences etc. We should all remember to KISS (Keep It Simple & Short). This is good for everyone, as individuals it helps our popularity and credibility and for teams and organisations it is crucial for clear understanding and innovation.

Detail and longer explanation can be added in when appropriate – one of the joys of TRIZ is it keeps detail in its right place, available when needed, but the clear thinking the main, important principles are understood first.

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This doesn’t mean we avoid or trivialise the difficult and complicated because these are important but occasional. But means we easily recognise their significance when we keep the simple appropriately simple. 

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*You will be pleased to know I have since remembered it means "seeming to be everywhere at the same time".

Topics: TRIZ, Knowledge

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