“Simple isn’t always shallow. Complicated isn’t always deep.” -Jon Weece

Everybody loves the idea of simplicity. Few actually practice and apply it to how we communicate.

The harsh reality of simplicity is that you have to fight for it. It never comes naturally. Complexity has a sneaky method of finding its way into our lives, our organizations, and what we communicate.

Here’s the harsh reality: if we don’t fight for simplicity in how we communicate, we will simply not be effective in helping people take their next step and experience life change. Our audience is getting bombarded each day by advertisements, messages, images, videos and agendas that are all fighting for the valuable commodity of their sole attention. If we don’t fight to find the clarity and simplicity in the chaos, our message will get lost in the clutter.

There are two areas in communications where you’ll need to fight for simplicity:

  • The Message – crafting simple, memorable, repeatable language that helps communicate the message.
  • The Medium – how the intended message is communicated simply and tailored to each communication channel.

Nobody understood this concept and applied it better than Jesus did through His teaching. When I study the teaching of Christ, I don’t always find deep and complicated words. I find simple, but convicting, teaching, like “Love God, Love others.” I find stories that challenge us to forgive one another, and put God first. I find examples of grace and mercy lived out, and I’m challenged to do the same. For me personally, it’s not the complicated truths of the Gospel that I wrestle with. It’s the simple ones! Like Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Sometimes in our churches, we feel the burden to not water down the message. The reality is that simple isn’t always shallow. And complicated isn’t always deep.

The Spaghetti Test: Finding out what sticks

Many of you may be wondering, “How do you go about finding the simplicity in the message?” Well, let me introduce you to my favorite trick. It’s called The Spaghetti Test. It’s the most effective (and most fun) way of testing to see if your spaghetti is cooked all the way.

When you’re cooking spaghetti and you need to check if the noodles are fully cooked, take a noodle out of the boiling water and throw it against the wall. If it sticks? It’s cooked. If it doesn’t? Cook it longer.

I love this concept when it comes to finding clarity in the chaos of what we’re trying to communicate. Sometimes, you just have to throw all your messages up against the wall, bring some others in the room, and figure out what’s sticking. What’s the word, the phrase, the felt need that is sticking with your audience? Once you find it, you’ve found your message that you can work around. Identify the simple, memorable, repeatable language that you can use to communicate your message. Then, make sure you’re removing any barriers that may be in the message to effectively communicate in each channel. For example, a pastor may have 30 minutes to share a sermon and communicate a message with clarity. In social media, you may only have 140 characters.

Leaders, don’t just settle for communicating your message as you always have. We all have enough chaos around us. Fight for simplicity today.

  • Chia Shunyi

    Hi Phil, I have heard much about this simplicity test put across differently, but same principles. But the spaghetti test is a great analogy for something not just simple but have to stick. Is there any real example from West Ridge you have come across that has passed this test and how did this differ in terms of results from when it did not? I am also wondering how this “test” is done (like speaking to people about it, or getting the pastors’ buy-in so that the message will be communicated over the pulpit?)

    Also congrats on the new role, and greetings from Singapore.

    • Hey Chia! Most of the time for me, this test comes into play during a brainstorm meeting after we’ve put some ideas on the board. At that point, it’s really helpful to step back and remind yourself, 1) what is the problem you’re trying to solve, and 2) What idea(s) stand out and have staying power for your audience? What’s connecting to your head and heart?

      Example recently for us was naming a giving 24 month giving initiative. We put a lot of titles up on the board that included words like “Campaign”, “Project”, and other predictable words that already had a preconceived idea about them. We kept on being drawn back to the idea of calling it the “What If Experiment”. The word “Experiment” built intrigue and invited people into the process, which is what we were looking to accomplish. That was the spaghetti that stuck 🙂

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  • Your point about repeatable language is critical. When we simplified our core values into easy statements that didn’t require lengthy explanation, we began hearing people say it back to us. And the more we work to drive home a central point from a message in repeatable language, the more we find people coming back to it and engaging with it in our social channels.