Dyslexia and the art of simplicity

Will Kelly
4 min readSep 19, 2021
Photo by Pablo Arroyo on Unsplash

Growing up with Dyslexia has made me a champion of simplicity throughout my career. Whether it was processes or content publishing, simple to me is always better. There’s a lot of deliberate complexity inside medium to large size organizations, and I’m not talking about just their cloud architecture either.

They say one of the superpowers of Dyslexia is seeing the bigger picture. I suppose that’s why I rail against deliberate complexity on projects.

Roots of deliberate complexity

Deliberate complexity in my experience comes from one of two places. One place is from a lack of understanding. People don’t know any better even though they’ve made it to a project leadership or higher position within an organization. Another culprit behind deliberate complexity I commonly see is insecure managers who want to build unnatural dependencies. Nothing happens without them micromanaging even the most minor details. Such battles for managerial relevance only drain productivity, morale, and progress on projects.

Remember, there are no awards for complexity.

The art of simplicity

Simplicity is one of the Dyslexia superpowers that has served me well throughout my career. Here are some principles that can help you simplify your project and work management:

Democratize your project management tools

I always recommend that project tracking requires collaboration from everybody through a centralized platform. A project management tool that’s too difficult to use for team members is an invite for them to work around it. For example, I’ve had good luck with Trello in the past for communicating the status of content projects. It’s lightweight yet feature-rich. I lean towards it to manage content projects because developers understand the concept of Kanban boards.

Move from oral history to checklists

It’s easy enough to decide on an editorial or SEO standard. In some corporate cultures, it can be entirely another thing to write that standard down. I’m not proposing writing down weighty standards; instead, I recommend recording the standard down on a checklist on a Trello card or in your work management tool of choice.

Not capturing standards can be an invite to forget something during the heat of a deadline. It’s also a subtle way to promote an unnecessary dependency on somebody inside your organization.

Use templates

I always use templates to keep things simple, whether for a fact sheet, white paper, or project workflow. Developing marketing and technical content can be a very stop-and-start affair, especially if you must collaborate with subject matter experts (SMEs) who must give client projects top priority.

Using templates for simplicity is also helpful with what I like to call “COVID Brain” when you forget a decision or a step in a process.

Lead with empathy

Technology ceased being the challenge for me years ago. Too often, I see people be a more significant challenge than learning and writing about new technology. I concluded a few years back that it was time to learn more about leading (and influencing) with empathy.

Amongst the superpowers of Dyslexia, empathy is one of them. I’ve spent a career interviewing people. Many of them were smart. Much more intelligent than me. There were even quite a few who weren’t as smart as they thought. Each of these types taught me lessons about personal motivations that I take with me to this day.

Stay grounded in the market

The longer I work in the IT industry, the more I see a connection between simplicity and being grounded in the market. Some of the most insecure managers, biggest pontificators, and blow-hards I’ve run across in my career have never been in front of customers, much less worked on billable projects in their recent pasts (or ever). Predatory industry analyst firms, outsourced marketing firms, and “yes men” help these people construct a fantasy life of deliberate complexity that bears no resemblance to what’s going on out there with customers.

Dyslexia gave me the gift of seeing connections, so following industry trends is easy for me. It took until I started publishing widely to write about the trends I saw in the market.

Even if we stock our teams with the brightest, most tech-savvy lifelong learners, it’s humanly impossible to keep track of technology developments today. It’s up to executives, managers, and senior team members to cultivate a culture where it’s OK not to know everything. Many of the lessons I learned about the cloud in the past few years came from working in just such a team culture. The director and solution architects on the team made the most of their complementary expertise with the cloud. Working with them encouraged me to dive deeper into cloud topics, which helped me write authoritatively about the cloud for TechTarget and others.

Final thoughts

It took Richard Branson’s Made by Dyslexia effort to begin to embrace how my Dyslexia influenced my composing process, project management approach, and how I troubleshoot problems. I always knew I saw things a little bit differently than my peers. It was an open secret for much of my career that I’m dyslexic.

My name is Will Kelly. I’m the technical marketing manager for a container security startup. Before that, I had a career as a technical writer. Opensource.com, TechTarget, InfoQ, and others have published my articles about DevOps and the cloud. Before that, I used to write about enterprise mobility and BYOD. You can follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.