Summarize & Simplify

Written by James O. Rodgers

I spoke recently to the incoming MBA class at The Goizueta School Of Business at Emory University. The panel included several senior executives from large corporations. I was the only consultant or external practitioner on the panel. After the session, one of the visiting participants came up to me and made the following comment. She said, “you have a remarkable ability to summarize and simplify the complex issues being discussed. You make it so plain.”
I received the comment with a thank you. The fact is that I get that comment from people quite often. So I have come to accept that as one of my gifts. In fact, I find myself often, reviewing voluminous text and summarizing it in my head or in my journal as a short pithy summary phrase or sentence.

Just recently I’ve been studying spirituals living, leadership, and diversity. Here’s what I have concluded. Each of these concepts has a simple message that has been convoluted and co-opted such that the core message has been obscured.  Here’s my reading.

The message of the Bible (on the spiritual living).

The core message of the Bible is this: love (love God, love others, love yourself). Everything else in the Bible is intended to illustrate how you do that.

The essence of leadership.

Leadership is the act of effectively selling a vision or a compelling future to yourself, to other individuals, or to groups. Everything else that is written about leadership (over 16,000 books and counting) are merely attempts to describe how you do that.

Diversity.

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The core message of the diversity movement is a call to recognize and acknowledge the differences and similarities that are a fact of life in any group of humans. Everything else (diversity management, inclusion, multiculturalism, pluralism, talent management, human capital management, etc.) are attempts to describe how to do that.

I recognize that these definitions may be too simplistic for some and may not resonate with others. In later posts, I plan to expand on these simple truths and invite your comments, with this proviso. Only if you disagree profoundly and conceptually, should you offer alternative language (too often we play wordsmith games that distract us from core meaning).

The more I read of the commentary and anecdotes of thought leaders in these three areas, I am struck that each one senses that the core message has been diluted and lost. While I am certainly in favor of a variety of voices expressing their points of view on these and any other topics, we must recognize that the more that is said about any topic, the higher the likelihood that there will be misunderstanding, miscommunication, disagreement, and controversy. Unfortunately, the net result is that most people are confused about the essential, life-changing, performance-enhancing value of these concepts. My hope is to reintroduce the simplicity of these basic truths, even at the risk of adding to the confusion.

Your thoughts, advice, praise, reprimands, and confirmations are welcome.