Complexity is Not Sophistication

October 26, 2012
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“Increasingly, people seem to misinterpret complexity as sophistication, which is baffling — the incomprehensible should cause suspicion rather than admiration. Possibly this trend results from a mistaken belief that using a somewhat mysterious device confers an aura of power on the user.”

- Niklaus Wirth, designer of the Pascal programming language

JS Comment:

Master practitioners, who wrestle with complexity on a regular basis, understand that the goal is always to strip away ambiguity — to reduce complexity, and amplify clarity, to as great a degree as possible.

In keeping with this, all true masters of their craft speak plainly.

Bruce Lee, in echo of Wirth, extols simplicity as the “ultimate sophistication.” Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, has said if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t really understand it. E.O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology, writes so clearly his prose is like pinging a crystal glass.

And in the trading and investing world, there are multiple examples of crystal clear communication: The annual Berkshire Hathaway and Baupost letters… the Schwager and Drobny interviews… the Howard Marks memos… and so on.

Those who practice “mumblespeak,” on the other hand, or otherwise hide behind a wall of esoteric jargon, should immediately raise doubts.

What are they trying to hide? Who are they trying to fool?

Suggestion — if you haven’t read it, check out “Consilience” by E.O. Wilson. A mind-blowing book in its own right, Consilience is the gold standard, or perhaps the platinum standard, for transparent writing.

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