Concise Ideas are One-Dimensional

Distill an idea to the most concise and clear form you can to make it memorable. 280 characters if possible.

Luckily some of the tweets, headlines, and soundbites we come across carry wisdom or at least nudge your headspace towards a new idea. This makes it too easy to forget that most things we talk about fall on a spectrum or have extra dimensions. Especially when maximizing viewership is so valuable for content creators.

Some of these are pretty straightforward. The value of “deep work” has been ingrained into our heads by the latest trends in business writing. On the other hand, several people I know online and in-person have said that the most effective people they know are all super responsive through email, text, and over the phone. So clearly you can be successful in both modes. What gives?

Taking a moment to think about it, you’ll realize that you don’t have to choose one. Block out an afternoon to dive into your work, then be obsessed with the outside world for the other hours in the day. Both of these techniques are complementary parts in a toolkit, not separate virtues you should aim for.

But you understand that already. The real argument I’m making is it’s critically important that we constantly reconsider the implications of our proverbs. Here’s an example (of many) showing why this can matter so much:

Humbleness and modesty are adjectives that usually show up when someone is being complemented. They’re great traits to have, and everyone clearly benefits when we all treat each other as equally capable and deserving peers. On the dark side of modesty, however, is imposter syndrome. (Which, by the way, disproportionately affects those from underrepresented groups!) I think that by asserting the ultimate value modesty in our bite-size thoughts, we impose a big mental and emotional barrier for people who shouldn’t act that way all of the time.

It can be incredibly useful to feel like you’re bad at something and have to improve ASAP. It motivates you to dive into nitty gritty details and be a sponge at the cost of self-esteem. Likewise, a sense of overconfidence can help you overcome risk-aversion, lead people, and sell, but at the cost of having an open mind.

Most worrying to me is that different people from atypical backgrounds have a stronger need to recognize and act on that duality.

As someone who’s never had trouble fitting right into the tech startup world, I feel that I have the luxury to not have to project any sort of confidence and can just default to whatever mood fits the situation the best (usually a feeling of being humbled by the many brilliant people out there!) But anyone who’s a part of an out-group faces a difficult tradeoff: using brazen confidence as a tool to validate themselves with the in-group will make you feel guilty over their immodesty.

Marketing “humbleness” or “confidence” as objectively desirable qualities misses the point. You can have moods where nobody can stop you, and moods where you’re still pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. They’re both horrifically useful tools at your disposal and you don’t need to stick with one or the other. Everything has a flip side that can be useful, as long as you can keep the balance.

In summary: most things are spectra, not polar, and most things are dimensional, not mutually-exclusive.

Thanks to Niraj for feedback. Subscribe to not miss any future posts!