Switching Between Synthesis and Review Modes

Keep It Simple Stupid

When I look through the statistics on this website the most commonly read topic is “Simple Solutions” followed by “The Individual” then “Innovation”. This shouldn’t really be surprising, we would never look for complex solutions or ways to complicate our lives and how many times have you found that the best solution is actually really straightforward? We have all heard of the phrase “Keep It Simple Stupid” or KISS for short.

Keep It Simple Stupid

Keep It Simple Stupid

People have a propensity to complicate things, descriptions, business cases, proposals or even decisions why is this?

Have you ever wondered how a team can spend days on writing a proposal and when it goes for sign off the MD or CEO spots a glaring mistake in minutes or sometimes seconds?

What about that business case that was totally watertight until an investor asks a simple question that makes the whole case crumble? Watch the TV show Dragons Den and see how people have worked and invested their own money in ventures that are derailed in seconds by the Dragons with questions that are not the result of complex analysis, they are simply applying common sense and experience. Why haven’t the people pitching asked themselves these questions?

The Difference Between Synthesis and Review.

In my recent post What Makes You Tick I proposed that we all have two decision modes which we can adjust in level and take action on one or the other mode. There is the RED end of the spectrum, the ‘Intuitive’ mode or Heart and the BLUE end the ‘Rational’ mode or Head.

When we are working on a proposal or business case we have to process a lot of information, technical specifications, financials, programme details, risk assessments, we are working at a very BLUE level, we become reluctant to let detail go, we are so close to the work our noses are touching it.

When that work is reviewed by a senior manager he has a completely different task and he has a limited timeframe resulting in him not having the time to read every word, he scans, he uses his past experience from other reviews or even the days when he wrote this kind of document. He knows the pitfalls, maybe from bitter experience. So his working mode is much more at the intuitive/heart RED end of the spectrum. He looks for the simple checks, he asks the common sense questions.

Think of a piece of art, think about how many hours it takes to create a masterpiece and then think how many seconds we take to appreciate it and yet we can instantly see if there is a jarring error. Think of the concert pianist playing an amazingly complex piece, we can appreciate it in real time but one misplaced finger and the whole thing is just wrong. No masterpiece can be created in seconds, they all take work but the reviewing and determination of good or bad, right or wrong takes fractions of a second.

Our brains are adept at automatic review and often fill in details from our intuitive scanning without us even knowing. Take a look at the following two pictures of the Mona Lisa, are they the same?

Spot the Difference

Spot the Difference

It turns out, for good reason, that our brains are tuned to face recognition and we do it very rapidly as part of our most basic fight or flight mechanisms, is this person familiar or friendly or are they a threat, but of course the faces are not normally upside down, turn these images the right way up and you will see what I mean!

Switching to Review Mode

To produce great work, a proposal, a business case or a report then you have to be able to switch modes from synthesis to review. Have you noticed how often as soon as you print a document you spot the obvious typo or missing word that you couldn’t spot on the screen? This is because we are tuned to reading the printed word, it is a different mode to writing, it is review rather than synthesis. The act of reading hard copy switches our mode. If you are giving a speech and you only practice by reading the words to yourself you might be happy, but record your performance on audio or video and review this and I guarantee you will change things.

5 Simple Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Output

  1. Consciously switch from synthesis to review. Plan in some time to review your own work, don’t assume that other reviews will trap your errors, they might but this will also set their opinion of you
  2. Review as close to the final format as possible with diagrams, photographs, headers and footers.
  3. Print the material, go to a different physical place, somewhere quiet and take a pencil for markups – underline the switch to review mode.
  4. Ask the obvious questions, does the business case work, is the solution too complex? What would the man in the street say?
  5. Remove superfluous material that is only included because a lot of effort went into writing it or in preparing a certain diagram.
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