John Lilly On The Role of Simplicity and Messaging

Yesterday I talked briefly about taking a break from media. However, I wasn’t precise, as the one thing I read each week is the New York Times Sunday paper. When Amy and I lived in Boston we started reading it every Sunday morning and continued whenever we travelled. Several years ago I started having it delivered to our house on Sunday morning and it is a delightful Sunday morning ritual for us.

Some Sundays I read it quickly – other Sundays I savor it. I generally spend most of my time in The New York Times Book Review, Sunday Business, Sunday Review, and The New York Times Magazine. I turn all the other pages, only stopping when I find a headline that interests me. For example, I learned today from “Jogging the Brain” that running increases neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, which is good for recovering from a night of too much drinking. I’m not drinking alcohol right now so this doesn’t apply, but it reminded me of something that I know from experience for some day in the future when I drink too much.

One of my favorite sections is the Sunday Business Corner Office by Adam Bryant. I read them all and almost always learn something or have an idea reinforced. I also learn about people I often know – either directly or by one degree of separation.

Today’s Corner Office is with John Lilly, a partner at Greylock Partners, is titled Simplify the Message, and Repeat OftenI’ve only met John once in person (for breakfast at the Hotel Gansevoort in NY) but have long followed him on Twitter and occasionally exchanged messages with him. From this near distance, I respect his thinking a lot.

Under the question “Early leadership lessons for you?” he reinforced something I strongly agree with.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

I think it’s worth repeating.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Did you see what I did there?

When we raised the first Foundry Group fund in 2007 we took over 100 first meetings. We told our story several hundred times. As part of it was a slide called “Strategy.” I still repeat the elements of that slide regularly, a decade later, as our core strategy has not changed. Sure – we’ve modified the implementation of parts of the strategy, and learned from what has worked and what hasn’t worked, but the fundamental strategy is unchanged.

When I wrote Startup Communities in 2012, I came up with a concept I call The Boulder Thesis. I have described it in similar language over 1,000 times in various talks and interviews I’ve given since then. If you want the three minute version, just watch the video below.

While I’ve learned a lot about startup communities over the past four years, my fundamental thesis has not changed. When I come out with the book Startup Communities – The Next Generation (or whatever I end up calling it) in 2018, it’ll incorporate all of these new ideas and things I’ve learned, but will be built on a simple message that I expect I’ll say another thousand times.

I regularly see leaders change what they say because they get bored of saying the same thing over and over again. It’s not that they vary a few words, or change examples, but they change the message. As John says so clearly,

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Enough said, for now.


Also published on Medium.

  • Reminds me of sports radio (and it likely occurs in other radio). I often listen to Colin Cowherd in the morning. He’s incredible at stating the same thing in a new way. When he repeats the same simple message in a new way, that concept or idea gets lodged into your brain in a way that you’ll remember it and then likely bring up that concept to someone else later. There’s a real power in hearing the same simple idea said multiple times.

  • Jason Randell

    Simplicity it is.