When advisors write for or talk to clients and potential clients, simpler is always better. That sounds pretty simple, but it isn’t.
The world of finance, with all of its markets and underlying forces, is highly complex and by no means easily understood. Financial advisors understand the markets far better than most investors. (Warren Buffet would be an exception, of course.) But because you understand this Byzantine world so much better than most people, it is actually more difficult to explain its in and outs.
What’s the best way for advisors to get their messages understood? A good answer—maybe the best answer— is KISS, keep it simple stupid.
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KISS evolved from a principle that was used by the U.S. Navy in 1960 to explain design procedures. The Navy’s KISS principle stated that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.
The acronym KISS reportedly was coined by Kelly Johnson
, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works
(creators of the Lockheed U-2
and SR-71 Blackbird
spy planes). The principle is best exemplified in the story of Johnson handing a team of design engineers a handful of tools, with the challenge that the jet aircraft they were designing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions using only those tools. Hence, the “stupid” refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication available to fix them.
It’s easy to say, “Keep it simple stupid,” but how do you translate the complexities of personal finance to your clients and potential clients plainly so they will understand it easily? Or maybe even find it interesting.
For the answer, let’s look at the writing of novelist Ernest Hemingway, who is considered by most readers and critics as one of America’s best writers. Others, including some noteworthy writers, among them Kurt Vonnegut, criticized Hemingway for his simplicity.
Vonnegut said Hemmingway used words that anyone “can spell and understand.”
What’s wrong with that? So Hemingway wrote using words that are easy to understand. And words that are easy to spell. You actually don’t even need to be able to spell the words you write these days, as long as you understand them. Understanding is what writing is all about.
Think about simplicity when you sit down to write. You are the financial expert, and you understand the nuances. Before you write anything, thing about the eastiest way to explain it.
The simpler your words, the simpler your message, and the easier you will be to understand.
Make each paragraph a separate idea. Keep sentences short. After you write a sentence or two, read it over and cut
out as many words as possible.
If you can use a word with two syllables instead of three, do it. If you can use one syllable instead of two, do it.
Some people think “big” words and complicated sentences make for good writing. Otherwise, William Faulkner never would have sold one book. For advisors, however, keep it simple.