Another Reason Less Is More

“Better to know a few things which are good and necessary than many things which are useless and mediocre.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m reading a book about geniuses that includes a chapter on individuals who have put to memory an extraordinary number of facts.

The authors of the book — one a grandmaster in chess, the other a memory champion — are self-described geniuses who would no doubt be great companions on a long voyage. If, that is, they kept their mouths shut most of the time.

For if they talked, they’d bore you. Not because they don’t have a lot to talk about, but because they don’t understand the art of talking. The book is pompous, pedantic, and poorly written.

I’m making an admittedly harsh judgment based on a single and even incomplete reading of this book, but it highlights an important point: Knowing a lot of stuff doesn’t make you smart. And talking about the stuff you know doesn’t make you a good conversationalist.

If you want to impress, entertain, educate, and even delight your listeners, less is more.

Here’s what you should do:

Learn fewer facts but understand them better. Rather than memorize the name of every U.S. president and the years he served (or every British monarch and the years of his/her reign), learn two or three — but figure out what they did (or didn’t do) that’s so important.

Try to draw links connecting the facts you know. There are patterns that repeat themselves in the universe, and discovering those patterns is the highest purpose of intelligence. Rather than bore your listeners by assaulting them with a string of apparently discrete bits of information, show them how things are connected. Impressing people with a cartload of facts is like feeding your guests junk food. It may provide a little rush of energy at first, but in the long run it will tire them out.

Less is more.