To clarify, add detail

To clarify, add detail

The encouragement to explore and keep asking questions is a bit of a central theme these past weeks. Even the engagement blog last week was about thinking in more detail about a topic that had become a slogan.

And anyone who has worked with me has probably heard me use the title of this blog as a request to go deeper and resist the urge to abbreviate not just words but the thinking behind them.

I can’t claim to be the author of either the line or the sentiment – that honour belongs to Edward Tufte. His full quote says:

“To clarify, add detail. Imagine that. To clarify, add detail. And clutter and overload are not an attribute of information, they are failures of design. If the information is in chaos, don’t start throwing out information, instead fix the design.”

Tufte is of course a world famous information designer and author of one of the best indictments of PowerPoint ever written. But his thinking can just as easily be applied to many other areas.

I was reminded of his words again last week while working with a team to rethink the relationships between processes and roles within a company business unit.

The team was assembled and there had already been a few rounds of discussion on the topics in the previous weeks. In short, the natives were getting restless. They wanted to tick the box on this and move on. I’m sure you’ve all been there.

It’s easy to find reasons why you don’t have time to dig into the detail, or to put it off with well-meaning intentions of coming back later. In this case we didn’t. We stayed with it.

By resisting the urge to discuss and run, the result was every person left the session clearer about the topics than when they arrived. That doesn’t mean things were simplified, in fact the opposite was true. There will need to be more work done and that’s a very good thing.

Clarity and simplicity are two different things that are too often mistaken for each other. Clarity is defined as “clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.”

Sometimes it can be achieved via brevity but more often it requires detail. You can always simplify later, but if you don’t get clarity first there’s a better than good chance that you’ll miss something that matters.

One of my favourite examples of clarity in action is the middle sentence of Patagonia’s mission statement, which says “… Do as little harm as possible…”. Sure it seems simple but you can feel and see the world of thinking that lives in those words. Not the pat “do no harm”, or the wholesale avoidance of the issue as too big to tackle. Just a deep knowledge and understanding of what their business is about, its place in the world and what they can realistically promise.

The brands you are building are a result of the promises you keep. With the fullness of detail that true clarity brings, those promises will be stronger, and so will your business.

See you next week.

Don’t miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan



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