Simple Minds Think Alike: The Art of Unlearning Complexity

Feeling stuck? About to go over your own "cliff"? Is complexity overwhelming your life? Do you feel like you may have joined the lemmings in the march to the sea? If yes, have you ever taken the time to stop and wonder why are you stuck and overwhelmed?
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By Jim Finkelstein and Ayelet Baron

Feeling stuck? About to go over your own "cliff"? Is complexity overwhelming your life? Do you feel like you may have joined the lemmings in the march to the sea? If yes, have you ever taken the time to stop and wonder why are you stuck and overwhelmed? And how on earth did you ever get yourself so wrapped up in such a complicated way of living?

Could it be that we have been programmed into thinking and behaving in a mechanical, routinized way? Some if us wake up every morning to the same alarm and drive the same route to the same place.. We park in the same parking spot, step out of the car, and begin participating in a series of ineffective meetings, endless email flow, and agonizing processes that accomplish little. Further, we are reminded of the things we just forgot to do before we left home. And we feel as if we are getting further behind. Rewind. Repeat.

And if we work in a virtual office, it is much of the same. We plug in our headsets, dial into the endless conference calls and try to find out what is going on back in the office via email, instant messaging or other social technologies that keep appearing in our tool box.

Allowing our minds to step outside of that habitual realm that we normally are (oddly) comforted by and enables an opportunity to get out of the complex mess that we frequently refer to as life.

One Step Back: Three Steps Forward

It's arguable that working backwards to change things is simply impossible. Unlearning how things have been done in the past, while seemingly unnatural is entirely possible. It is necessary to change how you perceive information, and how you react to it.

First analyze how and what got you stuck. When it comes down to it, the stuff that gets us stuck in the first place is what we're striving to unlearn. Now it's a choice. A decision. All it takes to change and escape from a habitual rut is a single thought or idea that is swimming in the opposing direction of everything you've ever learned or been taught.

"Only the hand that erases can write the true thing." - Meister Eckhart, 8th century monk

We are essentially in control of how we learn what we learn, and therefore it's up to us to instigate change. And we are not saying it's easy. Life is messy and we like to stick to our comfort zone and what we define as safe. Doesn't change simply symbolize a leap into the unknown and that is scary because we fear that someone may see that we are a fraud? In our "cut and paste world" of people telling us the secrets of success, original thought is exhausting. And yet, if we stop and think about our needs and what we need to unlearn, we can unstick and choose not to be overwhelmed and distracted by the never ending noise.

Detangling Ourselves: It Can Be Done!

Simplification is what the majority of us seem to constantly be striving toward, and some really seem to have a grasp on it.

Take the folks at Twitter, for example. Their micro-blogging platform restricts the number of characters one can use to 140 characters -- subsequently requiring you to really hone in on your creative juices and dip into simplicity by using their most innovative, yet authentic words to spur conversations.

Many have also discovered the glorious little app known as Instagram. Snap a picture on your iPhone, put a filter on the photo, and bam! You've created art. Who owns your art has become a point of contention as they try to build their business model.

What makes "Instagramming" so unique, is that unlike other social media sites or apps, one can describe their recently uploaded picture by using simple hashtags. Case in point: Instead of writing a sentence-long caption for a single photo of a sunset you caught a glimpse of after work, you might write: #longday #pinksky #goodtobehome

The true essence of the hashtag, is being able to say what you mean without really saying it. It's short. It's sweet. It's to the point. It's often laden with intelligent wit. Plus, it's got a modernly clever edge to it, providing a vast social media connection. It also allows you to connect with other people on a Tweetchat or a photo. It connects people who have similar interests.

Minimalist on Legs

So why is the notion of "unlearning" so often accompanied by a negative connotation? Let's look at some other examples that could help us to un-learn what we have been conditioned to believe and move forward.

World-class ultra runner, Anton Krupicka proves himself unique because he's a believer in "minimalist" running. He is hardly caught running in a shirt, nor partakes in the use of the latest high-tech running gear. Instead, he prefers running as close to barefoot as possible. This notion of minimalism, however, isn't just applied to his running shoes but rather to his overall philosophy that he applies to both running and life.

"[Minimalism is] trying to do something as simply as possible, in the most elegant way, without unnecessarily complicating it." - Anton Krupicka

However, as we simply acknowledge that we are and probably will be forever amidst the jumble of all that life is composed of, we are already getting up on the right foot.

Word Salad

Perhaps we can also start with unlearning the need to use and compile elaborate combinations of words to get our points across. A proverbial "word salad" that consists of big words like innovation, transformation and it goes on and on. Maybe we feel this way because lengthier sentences seem to radiate intelligence or professionalism?

Stringing together overly eloquent gibberish hardly equates to understanding a topic at hand. Plus long, drawn out sentences are annoying, tedious, and tend to overstay their welcome. When composing an email, get to the point of your message or simply choose to use a direct messaging platform that only allows for 140 characters where you don't need to copy the world and distract them as well Pick out and use the words you absolutely need to! You're saving time and energy that could potentially be directed to other projects or tasks.

Getting Started: Less is More

Simplifying one's life takes time. It may not be a marathon, but it's definitely not a sprint.

  • Start to pick apart the things that consume much of your time daily. This will help you to better analyze how to get down to the bare basics of simple tasks (while still being intelligent in your pursuit, of course).
  • Remember: simplification occurs by making the choice to change your habitual ways, so approach minimalism with an open mind, unscathed by what you've known your whole life.

The bottom line is that if we choose to get unstuck, we need to change our mindset. We can't wait for everyone else to change. The only one who you can fully expect to change is you. You have the keys to your manual on how to do stuff that matters to you since no one else has the "dummy's guide" but you.

Be willing to unlearn old skills that are cluttering up your life. Where will you start? #simplicity

Jim Finkelstein is the President and CEO of FutureSense, Inc. (, a consulting firm specializing in people and organizations. He is the author of FUSE: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace (GreenLeaf Book Group, October 2011) (

Ayelet Baron ( is a strategist, connector and speaker. As a former Executive Leader for Cisco Canada, she is a strategist who helps leaders address the company choices they face - in strategy, sales, marketing, operations, people, governance, and social media - and the impact of their decisions.

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(Twitter) Follow Jim Finkelstein at futuresense
(Twitter) Follow Ayelet Baron at ayeletb

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