The other day, a colleague of mine told me about a term that's been making the rounds in his company: "strategic agility."  

"Interesting," I said, not wanting to admit that I wasn't quite sure what the term meant. After we hung up, I decided to educate myself by consulting Mr. Google.

Luckily, I had 1.6 million sources to choose from, so I picked an article on And that's where the trouble started. Writer Steve Denning provided this description:

Today, the practice of Agile management (and its analogs, such as "Lean" and "design thinking") still reflects a preoccupation with achieving operational agility--enabling a team, a unit or an entire enterprise to nimbly adapt and upgrade its existing products and services to meet rapidly changing technology and customer needs, with efficiency gains or quality improvements.

Um, excuse me? I have a reasonably high IQ, but this was indecipherable. Unfortunately, the article went on like this for several hundred words, and other source material on the topic was all the same style of rhetoric: buzzword blah-blah-blah.

This reminded me of advice I've long given to anyone who wants to communicate effectively: Write like a seventh grader.

That means you have to get over yourself. I don't care whether or not you went to college--and if you did, whether you attended an Ivy League university, graduated summa cum laude, got your Master's degree or even your Ph.D. The fact that you read all of Proust in the French and studied Homer (the poet, not Mr. Simpson) in the Greek doesn't impress me. Your library may be more extensive than that of Congress. I'm still unmoved.

You need to leave all your impressive education and credentials aside and communicate at no higher than a seventh grade reading level.

What does that mean? You have to use simple words and short sentences. And to make your communication even more accessible, make sure your tone is friendly, your structure is clear and your writing is constructed so the audience doesn't have to work to get through the communication, or think too hard about what it means.

Am I serious? Absolutely. Readability (the ease with which a document can be understood) is more than just a way to measure literacy--it's a guideline for creating communication that is simple, direct and compelling.

And, because audience members are busy, distracted, time-pressed and cranky, they need a lower (i.e., simpler) reading level than ever before. It's not that people don't know what words mean, or can't comprehend complex sentence construction--it's that they don't want to.  They'd love for you to make life easy for them.

If you do, they're more likely to pay attention. If you don't, they're outta here.

That means seventh grade level, and not a marking period more. 

Published on: Dec 27, 2017
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