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Cognition

Meaning over Complexity

Over the past few months, I set out to write regularly. I also had a few potential talk topics bouncing around my head, and I had been waiting to find the right place to share them. This past April, I spoke at two events: Jersey Shore Tech on design patterns in JavaScript and Peers Conf about how we built the system at the heart of the O Music Awards.

Whether I’m writing or speaking, I feel a little bit apprehensive. I don’t want to put something out there that sounds uninformed, or lazy, or just downright “what the hell were you thinking?”-stupid. Maybe it’s Impostor Syndrome, or a symptom of how quickly the web can call out mistakes, or just a sense of pride, but I tend to get a little too critical of myself when sharing my ideas and thoughts.

In writing, a separation exists between the author and audience. You rarely watch your readers absorb your content, and you almost never get to see their immediate reactions. That distance makes it easier to deal with the anxiety of sharing, though it’s never fully gone away for me (and it probably never will). But that separation doesn’t exist for public speaking. When you’re up there speaking, you really feel the audience’s raw emotions—intrigue, confusion, or (it happens) boredom.

About a week before the Jersey Shore Tech meetup, while I was polishing up the last few bits of my slides, one thought completely consumed me: “This content feels too simple to be interesting or useful. Are they going to be wondering why I’m even sharing this?” I couldn’t shake it. I vividly remember even having this thought less than a minute before I started talking about JavaScript on that Tuesday night.


Both talks went better than I could’ve hoped for. The crowds were engaged, and I got some really nice comments about my basic points—like how applying some simple structure to vanilla JavaScript can create a much better workflow without overhead.

On my drive home from the meetup, I finally realized that ideas don’t have to be complex to be meaningful. Sharing even the simplest idea can have a surprisingly profound impact on your readers and listeners. Your audience may never have seen or considered what you may find completely mundane and uninteresting, and vice versa.

Pardon the horrible cliché, but workflows are like snowflakes—they all look pretty similar, but you’d be amazed by the differences. Knowledge sharing is at the core of what we do—it’s what makes the web and our industry so accessible. Share your workflow, your favorite tools, your nerdy text editor config files, whatever you can. We all have something meaningful to share, so write, speak, rant, tweet, podcast—it doesn’t matter how, just share what you do and how you do it.

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