Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Less Is More and Play to Strengths: Inspiring Communication and Leadership Performance in a “TNT/3-D” Digital Age:

Reviewing my recent essay on “Compelling Communication and Leadership Performance,” I belatedly realized needing to better walk my talk and herd my words, especially in light of the essay’s theme.  So here’s a streamlined version that hopefully convinces that on many occasions “less is more.”

In this TNT – Time-Numbers-Technology – World and 3-D – Driven-Distracted-Disruptive – Digital Age – capturing people’s attention amidst all the competing sources of data and diatribe, entertainment and excess is no small feat.  And then holding that ephemeral and excitable attention span borders on the extra-ordinary:  consider this feedback from an hour-long, “Stress Resilience & Passion Power” keynote with a mix of Human Resource Managers and Professionals:  Mark’s presentation was both “insightful and engaging”…. “very exciting and informative”…“very interactive and useful.”   He has a way of captivating the audience and makes them want to hear more… Mark Gorkin is a must hear!

So what is the magic elixir when it comes to capturing people’s attention, by being captivating not just commanding?  And believe me; it’s not just in my DNA, though some hypomanic tendencies probably play a role.  Presentational understanding and skills have evolved in trial and error (if not occasional terror) fashion over decades.  Here are four applied concepts you might want to add to your mindset and skillset:

A.  Less Is More…More or Less; and Play to Strengths
B.  Try to Keep It Simple and Smart
C.  Stand Out…Don’t Just Be Outstanding; Be Out-Rage-ous Not Just “Out of the Box”
D.  Design an IC2 Platform for Creative Play, Performance, and Partnering

A.  Less Is More…More or Less; and Play to Strengths

So let me walk the talk and provide brief aphorisms and bullet points as well as stories to highlight “Less Is More”:

1.  The Range, Reins, and Rewards of “Less Is More”

a.  Have an Initial Tight Program Outline and Be Ready to Let Go and Go with the Flow.

(1) You can’t do it all; choose the best, toss the rest; and often it’s a learning curve
(2) Streamline on the fly; improvise based on audience response and time constraints
(3) Recognize limits and imperfect resolution

b.  Make the Audience Part of the Show.  Learn to transition from a solo performer to a leader that transforms an audience into quartets and ultimately an orchestra.  Generate meaningful educational and entertaining structures and activities.  Your goal: to help individuals and teams bring out their best music while boosting mind and mood, motivation and morale.

c.  “Less Is More” Payoff.  Sometimes it pays to give folks just a brief taste of an intriguing leadership concept such as my “mind-mood” integrative creative communication model “Passion Power.”  After briefly outlining the model for Human Resource leaders, we then moved into a social risk-taking exercise.  We spent a considerable amount of time on the exercise, which was a big hit.  Yet, when the Program Chair invited me to return in two months to speak on at the chapter’s annual conference, her requested topic, naturally, was “Passion Power.”  Seems like providing less had them wanting more!

d.  Less Is More…More or Less.  Of course, when it comes to quantity and quality, sometimes less is less and more is more.  However, I recall reading of a succinct apology to a contemporary by one of those noted 18th c. English scribes due to his verbiage in a correspondence:  I’m sorry; I didn’t have time to write a brief letter.

Remember, you can’t do it all, that is, another “more or less” slogan; and perfection is an ideal if not an illusion.  Establishing boundaries sets limits; it also provides borders, challenges, and demarcations to be purposefully surveyed, surmounted, or surpassed.  With prescience and pith, acclaimed translator, James Falen, captures the power of constraint:

There are magic links and chains
Forged to loose our rigid brains,
Structures, structures, though they bind,
Strangely liberate the mind.

2.  “Less Is More” Means Being Pithy and Provocative, Palatable and Powerful

After you’ve selected the key program topic areas, the next challenge is to deliver the content in a manner that promotes the aforementioned FIT-ness:  the experience is FUN-Interactive-Thought-provoking:

a. Introduce an Absorbing and Thought-Provoking Subject for Your Audience.  A catchy and pithy introductory title helps, for example, “The Four Stages of Burnout” or “Combat Strategies at the Burnout Battlefront.”  In a “TNT – Time-Numbers-Technology – world, a world that’s definitely “3-D” – Driven-Distracted-Disruptive – most people can personally relate!

b) Break It Down and Make It Digestible.  Break down your concept into key or critical, readily identifiable pieces or examples; deliver the data or ideas with a substance and style that’s easy to take in – clear and concise, motivating and memorable – bullet-like components; two or three “smoke signals” from the first stage should suffice.  For example:

(1) Mental, Physical, and Emotional Exhaustion – e.g., you may be holding it together at work, but as soon as you get home, do you head for the fridge, get out the Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, turn on the tube, hit the sofa, and you’re comatose for the rest of the evening…or wish you could be?

c.. Present Info and Ideas in a “Scannable” Format.  When dealing with data overload, people want to take away important points without having to further strain their brain; make the message light and enlightening:  People are less defensive and more open to a serious message when gift-wrapped with humor!  Provide a supplemental handout for later in-depth exploration.

3. “Less Is More” Means Emphasizing “How To” Strengths for Participants and Presenter.  Consider these three realms for displaying action steps and strengths:

a. Accentuate Action Over Analysis.  Follow the old 80:20 axiom:  when dealing with a problem spend 20% of the time on problem description and diagnostics, 80% of time and energy in providing problem-solving tools and techniques.  I don’t need tech support to educate me in detail about my hardware glitch; just get me up and running!

b. Facilitate the Sharing of Strengths.  Once you establish your credibility as a concerned and knowledgeable leader, you really can loosen the reins and create forums/exercises that allow others to share and shine.  If you need help in generating real and relevant exercises, I provide skills and tools coaching in this arena.

c. Recognize the Value of Multiplicity and Variety.  Being a diversified presenter means playing such roles as an educator, an entertainer, as well as an emotional expression and empathy energizer.  Beware confining yourself to just one presentational slot, e.g., lecturer.  How about “Leading and Learning with “E”s:  Educate and Energize, Entertain and Evangelize…and, whenever possible, applying all concepts in group Exercise; actually, more on the value of acronyms and rhyme shortly.)  The challenge is not being one-dimensional.  Variety is the “spice” and “rule” of life, learning, and leading.  (I am not going to touch the fourth “l”…loving!)

d.  Mostly Play to Your Strength.  Still, when time is limited and the task is bounded, lead with your strengths.  If strongest as an “Educator,” let this be your trump suit or default position.  However, even if only for a short trial, inject one or two of the other “E”-roles in your presentation.  Be unpredictable; defy expectations.  Why?

(1) you capture people’s attention and generate on the edge anticipation,
(2) pleasurable surprise releases pain-reducing and joy-enhancing brain chemicals like endorphins and dopamine; and while there are differences in temperament, brains hunger for if not crave the new and optimal variety
(3) the continuous practice and expansion of range and repertoire builds your risk-taking and performance muscles; also, you achieve finer and finer definition especially as you evaluate and integrate audience feedback, that hard-earned source of adaptive wisdom, and finally,
(4) as a risk-taking and variety generating role model, you are also illuminating an evolutionary, multifaceted mind-mood-muscle skill path for your audience.  As Dr. Jonas Salk, the renowned founder of the polio vaccine, observed:  Evolution is about getting up one more time than you fall down; being courageous one more time than being fearful; trusting just one more time than being anxious!   Amen and women to that!


We have outlined three key components of “Less Is More…More or Less” and “Play to Strengths.  These performance- and leadership-enhancing dynamics include:

1.  The Range, Reins, and Rewards of “Less Is More”
2.  “Less Is More” Means Being Pithy and Provocative, Palatable and Powerful
3. “Less Is More” Means Emphasizing “How To” Strengths for Participants and Presenter

And there’s a sure way of knowing you are hitting that “sweet spot”:  When you give folks “less” they let you know that they want more!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  A training and Critical Incident/Grief Intervention Consultant for the National EAP/Wellness Company, Business Health Services in Baltimore, MD, the Doc also leads “Stress, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services.  Mark, a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, is the author of Resiliency Rap, Practice Safe Stress, and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email or call 301-875-2567.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The New KISS: Transforming an Old (and Rusty) Saw

Keep It Simple and …

To my surprise, the result of a long simmering discontent with an educational adage/acronym (along with a somewhat obsessive nature) is driving the evolution of a hopefully “multi-faceted if not elegantly simple” matrix:  The Stress Doc’s ™ Four “C’-ing – Concrete-Challenging-Creative-Collaborative Communication-Leadership Model.  (More about the “C”s in a future essay.)  That is, I believe a presenter or facilitator becomes a most compelling communicator-leader as well as an effective small- or large-group catalyst and coordinator when bringing these “Four ‘C’s” to life.  And this performance-partnership transformation occurs by knowingly engaging with: a) your audience on an insightful, emotional, and skill-building basis and b) encouraging audience members to interact with and share, support, spur on, challenge and cooperate with, and learn from one another.

The KISS of Death (or at least Decaying Brain Cells and Dis-Eased Relations)

However, before fleshing out the “Four ‘C’ Framework,” I want to highlight the formative building blocks, which brings us back to my state of discontent.  As you may have discerned from the title, I’ve never been a big fan of the teaching truism KISS:  Keep It Simple Stupid.  And whether the word “stupid” is a directive for the instructor, drives the content, or describes the audience from a so-called expert’s “bird’s eye” or perhaps more a “bird-brained” view…frankly, for me it’s demeaning; a “superior-subordinate” method of learning and relating.  Most egregious, it ignores the potential for disclosure, discovery, and synergy in the room.  (And by synergy, I’m talking both: a) the interaction of parts such that there’s a “whole is greater than” mind-body energy along with a surprising effect and that b) the parts evolve and transform into high performance partners.)

Actually, I prefer a touch of compassion over a stale kiss, for example, the maxim:  People don’t care what you know till they know that you care…duh!!!  And once folks know you care and you’re willing to “dialog” – acknowledging difference, allowing others to disagree and dare…better be aware; you will be getting much more than you imagined possible!  (I suddenly recall an old Stress Doc maxim:  Difference and Disagreement =/= Disapproval or Disloyalty; nor, conversely, does acknowledgement mean agreement.  But attention and acknowledgement show respect, the foundation for effective and efficient communication in an ongoing relation.)

Bringing KISS Back to Life (or Life Back to KISS)

Then recently an obvious KISS replacement leaped into consciousness:  Keep It Simple and Smart!  And while the new adage-acronym was not word tight it felt right.  Of course, everything is “smart” these days – from phones to cars, with their digital diversity and dexterity.  According to, from a systems perspective, smart means “operating as if by human intelligence by using automatic computer control.”  (Of course the irony of the aforementioned smart phones and cars is the numbers who engage in “stupid and selfish,” criminally dangerous behavior – texting while driving!)  No wonder at times I wax nostalgic.

Growing up the word “smart” was immediately linked with mere human “intelligence” or being “clever.”  Now, in addition to its technological pedigree, it also connotes being “elegant or fashionable” – as in stylish, trendy, or chic.  Another synonym for “smart” is “lively”:  vigorous, energetic, or quick (which brings us back to keen and clever).  Of course “smart” has a shadow side:  e,g., insolent, rude, sarcastic, etc. and a connection with “pain” as in sting, burn, hurt, etc.  A smart comment can definitely smart; I call this “scarcasm.  With this caveat, I still like my candidate for the new KISS.

“Simple” Isn’t So Simple

Let me also dwell a moment on the first “S.”  While the “simple” of KISS for most traditionalists connotes such terms as mentally deficient, ignorant, unsophisticated, and gullible, the word potentially has more positive connotations, such as humble, tasteful, guileless, unaffected, natural, informal, real, essential, and genuine.  So in my book, a message or story that is “simple and smart” – is clear and genuine while also being clever, lively, and quick, and perhaps it might have a bit of an edge, as this example illustrates.  When reviewing stress smoke signals with an audience, I’ll ask if anyone deals with TMJ.  (It’s often a stress-related condition involving the chronic clenching of the jaw.)  Invariably several hands flutter.  My immediate reply, “And we know what TMJ really stands for:  Too Many Jerks!  Most assuredly simple and smart on several levels.

Ways to KISS

And there are more variations on a KISS theme than the French technique.  (Obviously, I’m keeping said tongue well planted in my own cheek.)  Let me count several ways of enabling your communication-message to be “Simple and Smart”:

1.  Acronyms.  Clearly, acronyms allow a message to be succinct and powerful (if not always “smart” in the “Emotionally Intelligent” sense of the word).  KISS or TMJ…these letters and lines definitely package and pack a punch; see “Alliteration” below.  Through form and function, acronyms allow for the selection of a manageable and digestible number of key “food for thought” elements.  Not only do acronyms help make a message seem meaty, in addition they make it memorable.  For example my “Natural SPEED Formula for Stress Resiliency, Brain Agility and Emotional Integrity”:  Sleep-Priorities-Passion-Empathy-Exercise-Diet.  Of course, use some discretion; it’s easy to OD on acronyms.  I’m a charter member of the new 12-step AA group:  Acronyms Anonymous.

2.  Analogy.  Analogy is a similarity between two things, having features that, at a first glance, are not always seen as related.  This cognitive-categorization process evokes a comparison whereby the resemblance may be more readily and rapidly understood: the analogy between the heart and a pump.  Analogy enables us to a) take familiar knowledge and experiment in a new arena or have a new situation challenge a conventional view, b) to perceive common threads among disparate elements or situations, c) sort wheat from chaff, and d) rapidly and often reliably get to the crux of a problem, thereby facilitating new perspective, applications or adaptations…talk about a smart (and survival-driven) conceptual tool!

Or use metaphor or comparative symbolic imagery to put some meat on a message bone.  Let me provide a personal example.  When I submit program titles for various speaking engagements, a frequent subtitle is:  “Combat Strategies at the Burnout Battlefront.”  People often feel there are war zone elements in their work situation.  I recall VA Head Nurses introducing themselves at the start of a stress workshop by barking out their last names and their wards:  “Walker, W-14, Thompson, W-18, Jones W-20.”  I immediately exclaimed, “It sounds like your reporting from the battlefront!”  Their sighs and nodding heads let me know I was on target.

So even if “Burnout Battlefront” is an exaggeration, folks believe I have a sense of their intense work conditions/stress levels.  Though for these nurses it wasn’t much of an exaggeration.  Their two favorite slogans:  “Do your eight and it the gate; nine to five and stay alive!”  (We’ve previously illustrated, a slogan or an adage is another way of generating an effective KISS.)  As for the extreme conditions, maybe it was a coincidence, though I don’t believe so…the very caring Director of Nursing who brought me in to lead the workshop was dead within a year from cancer.

P.S.  Surely, another way to convey “simple and smart” is through a pithy story, especially one that ranges from the playful to the poignant or vice versa.

2.  Alliteration and Rhyme.  Or try punching up a KISS by using alliteration; repeating the same letter at the beginning of a word, e.g., “burnout battlefront,” or repeating similar sounds, which takes us into the realm of rhyme.  The aforementioned nurses’ slogan will do:  “Do your eight and hit the gate; nine to five and stay alive.”  Walk the talk clearly has permeated mass consciousness.  Alliteration and rhyme give your words a “rhythm” – a beat, a pace, a cadence, a pulse – which makes your message vibrate, makes it distinctive, and helps capture peoples’ attention.  A radio host recently thanked me for being on his show and added, You have a unique rhythm to your speech that I want to tap on and you have great delivery.  Thanking him, I mentioned trying to project the emotional valence of just about every word or phrase that I use.  (Many moons ago, as a novice starting in radio, getting speech lessons from a theatre actress definitely helped.)

3.  Simple and Smart but also Silly or Sly.  Clearly, so many try to employ or simply enjoy humor as it helps grab attention, may facilitate social bonding or defuse interpersonal tension, and a good laugh relieves stress.  As many humor students have noted, laughing with gusto is like turning your body into a big vibrator, giving vital organs a brief but hardy internal massage…talk about a “simple and smart” message!  (Of course, in addition to healing or harmonizing humor there’s the hostile variety.  Darn, now I may need to start an Alliterations Anonymous group as well.)  And when your message can both quickly, and mostly gently, poke fun of cultural icons while helping us knowingly laugh at our own flaws and foibles…well that’s one desirable if not delicious KISS.  Consider the opening lines of the Stress Doc’s Stress Rap:

When it comes to feelings do you stuff them inside?
Is tough John Wayne your emotional guide?
And it’s not just men so proud and tight lipped
For every Rambo there seems to be a Rambette!

As I once penned, People are less defensive and more open to a serious message gift-wrapped with humor!

4.  Be Surprising.  For some a message that’s both simple and smart may seem contradictory if not oxymoronic.  Actually, when you place “simple and smart” content in a quick and unexpected package you basically have captured the definition of “wit” as observed by revered American humorist, Mark Twain:  Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.  “Practice Safe Stress,” anyone?

Ironically, delving into my “wit” memory bank actually short-circuited my “New KISS” campaign.  Recalling Shakespeare’s dictum, Brevity is the soul of wit, I could no longer confine my creative communication concept to “simple and smart.”  The conceptual floodgates had opened.

Designing the Pass in the Impasse

In fact, my conceptual contentment lasted two days; predictably, my mind would not let me rest on “well enough” laurels.  Rumbling from underground were the cries:  “what about short and smart or simple and surprising”?  And of course, with the “fashionable” word smart we were just a small step from another powerful if not trendy “s”-word “sexy” – as in exciting, appealing, and a mind-opening “sexy idea.”

In fact, despite my angst about not getting too complex, I kept pushing the communicational envelope, coming up with various conceptual foursomes and combinations.  For example, my ascending action steps go from the “Concrete to the Collaborative”:
Concrete:  simple-short
Challenging:  smart-sexy
Creative:  surprising-synthesizing
Collaborative:  sharing-synergizing

And, yes, for those with Rubik's Cubed minds, there are all kinds of permutations as you envision the above "Four 'C' Dynamics" cognitively dancing with a "Process" also having four dimensions:  Information, Ideation, Integration, and Interaction.  The most obvious “CI” pairings actual constitute “action step” pathways:  Concrete Information Path, Challenging Ideation Path, Creative Integration Path, and Collaborative Interaction Path.  And this is just the beginning!

But this cacophony will be addressed in future writings and matrix-like images.  Hopefully, for the present, less will have you wanting I buy some time for fleshing out this conceptual- and performance-driven multi-dimensional skeleton.  And the biggest challenge:  trying to maintain the spirit of KISS.  Till next time…Keep It Simple and Smart

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist andTeam Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  A training and Critical Incident/Grief Intervention Consultant for the National EAP/Wellness Company, Business Health Services in Baltimore, MD, the Doc is also leading “Stress, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services.  Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online -- HotSite" -- -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email