The Lowest Common Denominator

One of the dumbest things a person can ever say is: "People are dumb."

No doubt you've heard it out there in a wild. I used to hear it all the time from sales reps, managers, ops people, etc. Now I hear it from software devs, PMs, technical writers, etc.

They even have little cartoons for it, that they send around:


Everyone seems to think that these humans that they are working on behalf of are not capable... and that things need to be "dumbed down" for them. Brought down to a easier level.

To the idea of "lowest common denominator," that peope are dumb, I call bullshit.

People are lazy, tired, and distracted. They are drunk, high, tripping, over/under caffeinated. They are are bombarded with requests for their focus/attention, their money, and their time. They have family, debt, pets, jobs, kids, coworkers, broken appliances, neigbhors, trees, and priests. They have racoons getting into their trash at night keeping them up, and robbers stealing rims in their neighborhood. They have a baby that got COVID-19 and a husband/wife with a medical condition that doctors don't understand. Their boss is getting a divorce and their kid is getting bullied at school.

The thought that a "normal person" could be some sort of subject matter expert in whatever you're selling, or that they are able to operate in your world at the drop of a hat, no matter how "easy" it is, is laughable. People are actually pretty smart, they just have a lot of things in the way of them acting like it.

Now a decade ago I probably would have said the same thing as everyone else, but then something magical happened- I interacted with those "dumb" people that my coworkers talk about. Not just a handful either. From ~2009 to 2013 I talked to somewhere in the realm of ~13,000 to ~15,000 different people. And what I found: Most people are pretty smart. They aren't "Rhodes Scholar" smart (chances are neither are you) but they're smart enough.

So whats all this business about serving the "lowest common denominator," making sure you dumb things down??? In my book it's laziness.

Here's what I'd recommend: instead of bringing the subject down to a place where even a corpse could understand you should try to bring people up to your level, or at least a place where they can operate. It isn't easy, and it's definitely a goal... but the world will be better for it. Your customers will thank you, and your users, clients, audience, whoever will thank you for it.

I'm going to leave off with a quote from John Collison (cofounder of Stripe):

"That one of our principles when it comes to the marketing at Stripe is that we speak up to the reader. You’re not trying to dumb things down for someone who isn’t familiar with something like this. You are speaking to an intelligent person who is busy, but knows what they’re talking about, knows what they’re doing. And it’s your job to kind of help educate them on this. And so we certainly made that a big part of the culture early on. And I think, I mean, like any culture, it’s self perpetuating. I think people for whom that’s important tend to be drawn to it.

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