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Dealing with complexity bias in a world full of jargon | Slangbusters Blog
Mar 31, '20

Dealing with complexity bias in a world full of jargon

Let’s face it. We all are a cocktail of biases. In the world of business, there is no room for some.

As I write this, at a local Starbucks, I have a corporate meeting going on at the next table. Two men in suits, sipping their mocha lattes are discussing and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. The meeting seemed to have gone successful, indicated by the firm handshake before they left. Only that I did not understand a word of what they were talking about, apart from something about quarterly goals. I heard words like disruption and outbound strategies. It seemed like they were from an advertising conglomerate. They used the word branding so many times out of context, I almost wanted to intervene.

Although, why did I fail to understand what the meeting was about? Why did it seem successful, even with the use of heavy jargon?

Before we talk about complexity bias, I would definitely acknowledge that I am not a marketing executive, or an owner of any marketing jargon dictionaries. The use of jargon within the walls of a professional setting, like the meeting I eavesdropped, was in an ideal scenario where such corporate talk is not only expected, but also functional.

But then again,

What is complexity bias?

Our brain is a wonderful organ. It is the most intricate and complex structure and the center of the human nervous system. Along with giving us the ability to think, it also is home to a variety of biases, including the complexity bias. The definition of complexity bias is, “A logical fallacy that leads us to give undue credence to complex concepts. Faced with two competing hypotheses, we are likely to choose the most complex one. That's usually the option with the most assumptions and regressions.” But the irony is, this definition is a complex way of saying that we like complexity.

In a case where we have two options, one simple and straightforward, and the other one difficult for the brain itself to digest, it likes the latter. Both you and I do this. One instance could be when an ATM asks us to choose a number between 10 and 99, instead of choosing 10 or 99, I’m sure most of us would type in any other number. It is not as complex as it might seem, but we chose to think about it rather than doing the simplest of actions in front of us.

The human brain is wired to be weird.

Why do we love jargon?

Ever come across products that claim to be either a random-chemical-free or contain the powder of the bark of a tree that no one has heard about? Yes, those best-selling products that need to be restocked very often? Yes, they are the biggest examples of how we hog on jargon instead of avoiding it. Marketers make the best out of this bias and sell us stuff that we don’t need.

Philosopher Theodor Adorno once said, “Using incessant jargon and technical terms even when simpler synonyms exist would be perfectly appropriate. We have all heard people say things which we do not understand, but which we do not question for fear of sounding stupid.” And this precisely explains why we constantly indulge in jargon-talk.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” — Ernst F. Schumacher

Hey, jargon is not supposed to be alienated altogether. In many contexts, it is not only helpful, but vital too. But in most communication, it is futile.

How does this bias affect you?

The corporate world, unfortunately, is plagued with this bias. If you are an entrepreneur, a businessperson, or basically someone who is involved in making decisions that run the business, the victim of this bias will not only be you, but your entire organization.

It is often seen in a business setting that investors, when listening to a pitch, they are impressed by the use of jargon, thinking that the entrepreneur knows what they are talking about, but usually, no one in the room usually knows. They end up making decisions about where their money will be pushed, based on who sells it the best using jargon, instead who is the most passionate and has a product that shows potential for good business.

How to get out of the trap?

One of the most common functions of jargon-talk is evasion. Most people use it without realizing it, but the strategic mind that does, uses it to talk someone out of a decision, to make them favor something that benefits them, to win an argument. It is used as a shield to save themselves from the wrath that truth will bring on them. What do you do when you identify someone who is doing this?

Simple. Practice asking instead of nodding.

You might fear looking like a fool when you ask “what does that mean anyway?” Most of the time, the jargon-sayer doesn’t know the meaning themselves. They end up looking like a fool and will avoid using such terms in the future. If they do know the meaning, well, you go home knowing a little more than you did yesterday.

If you continuously find yourself in such situations, having difficulty in dealing with this bias, there is a way to fight it with another bias. Well, it’s not exactly a bias, per se, but the concept of inherent simplicity. What makes something complex is multiple layers of simple systems. Just that our brains cannot deal with multiple calculations at a time, making us confused, just like a computer that hangs when too many tabs are open at once.

Simplification is inherent in us humans. Step back, and it will give you a better view of the problem.

Face a jargon? Be that guy who asks.

Confucious said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Einstein said, “Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” and it was a discussion loop that lasted longer than a conversation between Siri and Alexa.

Done with talking to people full of jargon?
Contact us, maybe we can simplify it for you.
We definitely can build a brand for you.
In any case, call. Bye ly tc.

— by Manas, Content Strategist, Slangbusters Studio

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