Tag: Blaise Pascal

Chip Off the Old Block

Chip Off the Old Block

Renaissance artist Michelangelo claimed that his job was to free the human form trapped inside the block. His words, apparently were:

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and in action.  I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

Moses by Michelangelo

Moses by Michelangelo

I see a great similarity between sculpting and writing. In both, you start with a thought or purpose in mind that must be conveyed to a particular audience. Then begins the task of writing and chipping away to make a final piece that then gets the reaction that is often proportional to the clarity of the initial ‘thought’ of what had to be conveyed, and the efforts taken to ‘chip away’ to arrive at it. A slightly different move with the chisel [or pen] can create something completely different from what was planned, sometimes better, sometimes worse.

Blaise Pascal beautifully captured some of that in a sentence when he said “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” A very interesting contradiction, where one would normally assume that longer or bigger looking tasks and thoughts would automatically take more time and effort, where as it is usually the most simple ones that take much longer and way more effort.

Let’s get back to the profound yet simple perspective of Michelangelo’s. I believe it finds application in any area of work or life too. It is about seeing clearly, things as you want them to be, or as they should ideally be. It could be about initiating a change in culture at work. Or about conceptualizing and developing of a product.Maybe even about how you’d like your career or an important relationship to shape out in the long run. 

Once you can visualize that, then comes the simple part of chipping away the extra bits. Everything unnecessary that stands between how things are and how they should be. If you are not seeing the objective or destination first, you are not really going anywhere.


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Brevity #3

In continuation with my interest in the importance of brevity in communication (to a greater extent in  written communication, and to some extent for verbal),  this post is made up of some interesting quotes on brevity that I came across.

The quotes are in blue. Now after you’ve read each quote, I urge you spend a moment to reflect upon it.

Your objective, with every email (unless it is written for a lover or for an old friend), should be such…

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

And in case you can’t, here’s your excuse for sending insanely long emails…

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
― Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters

Here’s the kind of time you need to prepare, before addressing an audience…

“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
― Woodrow Wilson

Apart from the essence of preparation and importance of brevity, Thomas Woodrow Wilson very interestingly and brilliantly captured the 80:20 principle (Pareto’s) in the above quote.

Brevity #4

Now here’s a cheap shot at all the novels out there. Hollywood and Bollywood among others could get killed if a quote like this is taken seriously.

“A novel is just a story that hasn’t yet discovered a way to be brief.”
― George Saunders

Imagine the story-writer condensing his entire novel into a brief story of 5-6 sentences or less. The movie guys might wonder, “to hell with making the movie; after all, what would we put in it?”

And if you thought writing work emails is easy, well, here’s the effort that goes into it.

“Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination.”
― Louise Brooks

And finally, the funniest and coolest one.

“Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Brevity #2

Now while I’ve been working on improving my email writing skills (mostly in my work emails) for some time now, I must admit that while it takes some effort to make all your content as concise as you possibly can, you must always be careful of not going to the other extreme, i.e. making the email so concise that the objective or purpose itself is lost.

If you liked this post, here’s one that you might find interesting too [So what’s your Point?]

brevity quotes