I really enjoyed Matthew May’s Change This manifesto Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking. So I was immediately drawn to his latest Creative Elegance, The Power of Incomplete Ideas. I highly recommend it as a pleasant sort of whack to the side of the head. (For a bigger whack, you can buy the book, out now)
It’s about how you create more engagement by leaving things out, letting your audience fill in some blanks. For instance,
the great renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci invented a technique called sfumato—literally “in the manner of smoke”—that he loosely defned as “without having distinct edges and lines.” With sfumato, lines are left a little vague, and forms are slightly blurred to merge with one another. This is what allowed da Vinci to achieve such life-like effects in his masterworks. The mystery of the Mona Lisa is somewhat less mysterious, for example, once you see that the corners of her eyes and mouth—the two features responsible for human expression—are deliberately indistinct. She seems to be alive because her attitude is so open to interpretation.
I was also struck by this Lao-tzu poem Matt cites at the end:
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub,
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel,
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room,
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there,
Usefulness from what is not there.
This leaves me thinking about how we get fixated by the measurable and risk not seeing the true value in what isn’t measured. I get easily frustrated by people who anxiously fixate on the “deliverables” of meetings and seem to miss an awful lot of the subtle stuff that’s going on.