Published: Tuesday 1st September 2015

I was recently re-reading ‘Eat the Big Fish’ by Adam Morgan, and was struck by a story he tells about Picasso. This is it:

One day Picasso welcomes a visitor to his studio. On the floor in the middle of the studio is a large block of unhewn rock. The visitor asks Picasso what he intends to do with it.

“From that rock, I will sculpt a lion,” the great artist replies.

The visitor is taken aback. It’s hard for him to imagine how anyone could create anything from such a rock. In obvious awe of Picasso, he asks the master nervously what –how – where one might start the process of creating a lion from such an unpromising block of rock.

“Oh, it’s very simple,” Picasso replies. “I just take a chisel and knock off all the bits that don’t look like a lion”.

And there we have it, the perfect expression of the fine art of reduction, of removing all the extraneous bits that detract from a great idea, or a powerful presentation, or a strong positioning, or a honed business plan. Less is most definitely more.

Single minded communication –communicating a simple idea, simply – has always characterised the greatest and most memorable advertising campaigns. Apple has consistently showcased creativity; Audi champions technological advancement – simple. As consumers, we engage more easily with simple ideas and they are better remembered.

The most effective political campaigns are driven by strategists’ insistence on staying ‘on message’ – not being distracted or losing control of the central story that needs to be told, and remembered. For the Conservatives at the last General Election, the overriding message was that, unlike Labour, they could be trusted with the economy, that it was safe in their financially prudent hands. End of.

Choosing what not to say and do is as important as what you choose to say and do. It requires sacrifice and that’s not something that comes easily. We are inclined to over-complicate in an effort not to leave ourselves exposed. And this detracts from our central message.

The oft quoted example is Steve Jobs, returning to Apple at a time of financial meltdown. Within weeks of his arrival, he cut the number of ongoing development projects from around 150 to 3, focussing only on those that would restore Apple to full financial health and best exemplify its positioning– Think Different.

By keeping it simple we communicate more effectively and with greater intensity. We can establish a stronger identity and point of difference. We can also dispense with the superfluous and direct our energy squarely at our chosen goal.

Janine Abrahams