We complete each other

I wanted to say a little more about Matthew May’s work on creative elegance. Matt’s eloquent challenge is this:

Conventional wisdom says that to be successful an idea must be concrete, complete and certain. But what if that’s wrong? What if the most elegant, most imaginative, most engaging ideas are none of those things?

He makes the point that by letting others complete our ideas, we create far more engagement. That’s such an important lesson in a world that often seems to favour brittle certainties. A couple of years back, I wrote about Elen Langer’s experiment where she rewrote a text book to deliberately introduce uncertainty and conditionality in its precepts… and discovered that this created much greater application of the material by students.

This is why I have become more and more wary of keynote presentations, which so often seem to serve up tired certainties instead of provoking fresh thinking and insights – by both speaker and audience. As Langer points out, when become familiar with a routine, we often become insensitive to the subtle factors that really influence its success. The curse of the expert.

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