I’ve always felt like a dummy.

It’s why I read so much, an eager attempt to counter it, but the more I read, the bigger a dummy I feel. When the bad part of my ego gets involved, that part that is always playing offense, I start to explain to people how I read so much. I drop sources constantly, as if they need proof that I read something somewhere once. I have books! Lots of them! They make me S-M-A-R-T!

It’s something I use to do with design, too. And I think I’m doing it these days with writing. It takes work, but being able to get past this attitude gives an ability to focus your intelligence when needed and to allow the fruits of that effort to do the heavy lifting.

Hiding your intelligence in the fabric of the work you’re producing is an elegant way to display your knowledge. Providing answers before the questions are even asked, not verbally, not throwing it at the client or the audience or whomever is consuming your work, but gently through the work itself can often create an attraction to, and respect for, what’s on display.

Finding Shortcuts to Confidence

I think it’s a natural defence mechanism – a little quirk of our social evolution, a way to separate us from one another, to help us jump a notch on the social ladder.

It’s for confidence, a charming and attractive trait, and in an attempt to shortcut our way to it, we’ll often over compensate.

We start to drop our smart bombs all over the place. We perform public displays of intelligence as a shortcut to confidence when we have none. The truth is the opposite happens the second someone realises we’re trying for one reason – to show that we’re smarter. Not smart. Smarter. Smarter than the audience, smarter than the client or the reader or the people sitting next to us.

Confidence, especially when pitching work, is to be able to present a work, justifying the points as to how it benefits the client, their customer, and gets the message across, without needing to resort to industry jargon. Doing so, for any thinking client, is an obvious show of distraction; an attempt to justify points not solid enough to stand on their own.

Complex Solutions Made Easy!

The celebrated display of intelligence are often the ones in which complicated systems are simplified. The greater the former, and the smaller the latter, the more celebrated, the more elegant.

So why do it with design solutions? Why over-complicate? Why produce materials for designers rather than clients? Why clients rather than their audience? Why execute a bad brief perfectly?

If your solution is smart enough, you won’t need to go on about balance and harmony and color and type. The client does not care. If all that works well, then chances are they won’t even notice, but if we talk about such things, we just hide the real solution.

Then when someone asks a question, often in an attempt to understand, though sometimes in the hope of rattling, an honest, research and understand response is what should be calmly returned.

I think that’s the problem most people have with stylistic heavy design – it’s all surface, no substance. It’s a shortcut to an emotional feeling, a cultural artefact that speaks to one subgroup perfectly, if even for just a moment.

It doesn’t have to use the language perfectly, as it’s just got the right accent, so people are charmed by it.

That’s what over exemplifying our intelligence does to us. We speak gibberish with a beautiful tongue.

Distill the intelligence in the work and then talk about the results of that effort, not about the effort itself.

Then, if needed, it can be backed up. In this case, it’ll be an elegant display as you calmly and perfectly slice through a complex idea. A better use of energy than wielding an axe like a madman, hacking away at answers before the questions have been asked.

I didn’t realise it until I finished this essay, but Paul Scrivens, one of the smartest guys I know, wrote about this topic a couple of days ago in his own writing challenge. Maybe I’m not so smart after all.