I finally got around to reading Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ and can highly recommend it. For those who may not know, Daniel, with his colleague Amos Twersky, won the Nobel Prize for their work in behavioural economics.
He found our brains are ruled by two systems:
- System 1: Fast, intuitive, automatic, error-prone—e.g. recognising an angry face, working out 2 x 2, or understanding simple sentences.
- System 2: Slow, effortful, conscious, reliable—e.g. working out 15 x 37 or resisting temptation over a long time
We prefer being in System 1 because it’s EASY. And we’ve evolved to save energy, even mental energy.
Kahneman found when you ask people to read a complex message, you push them into System-2 thinking. And because that means a dirty, four-letter word—WORK—they dislike it.
In fact, when using System 2 we become:
But when you present a message our System 1 can process, we tend to:
- Like it
- Believe it
- Trust it.
Are you seeing the implications here? THAT’S why we need to keep our messages simple.
In terms of written documents in particular, the idea is to reduce cognitive load ie anything that adds extra processing for the brain. Things like:
- Long words (eg ‘multisyllabic’ instead of ‘long’)
- Long sentences (longer than about 20 words)
- Fat paragraphs (longer than 4-5 lines thick)
- Passive voice
- Errors (eg punctuation, grammar)
- Waffle (eg ‘at this point in time’ instead of ‘now’)
- Unnatural sequence (say it in the order it happened)
- Long bullet lists, like this!
So keep it simple, clean, direct, action-oriented….AND DON’T CC PEOPLE WHO DON’T NEED IT JUST TO ‘COVER YOUR BACKSIDE’
Happy Easter everyone. I hope the Easter Bunny brings you some rest, relaxation, good times and choc til you drop. xx