Lessons from the Higgs Boson discovery on how to bring simplicity to the complicated.

By Amber Hudson and Luke Sklar

We’ve all heard it:  keep it simple, less is more, the paradox of choice, when accessorizing always take off the last thing you put on (thank you Coco Chanel).   Our brains are fried, our time is crunched, we write in 140 characters or less, fewer stores are shopped, fewer pages are read.  We. Must. Simplify.

So when I heard about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle I got super excited.  FINALLY!  Something that explains how the universe came to be!   Except replace super excited with grossly annoyed.  All this “god particle” stuff sounded exciting, but the descriptions were ridiculously unclear to those who don’t hold a degree in quantum physics.  So in the spirit of simplicity we set out to come up with an undemanding explanation wrapped in a story.  The secret?  Angelina Jolie.  Here we go (adapted from www.exploratorium.com):

Imagine you’re at a hot Hollywood party. The crowd is thick and evenly distributed around the room, gossiping and drinking. When Angelina Jolie arrives, the people nearest the door gather around her. As she moves through the party, she attracts the people closest to her, and those she moves away from return to their other conversations. By gathering a cluster of people around her, she’s gained mass. She’s harder to slow down than she would be without the crowd. Once she’s stopped, it’s harder to get her going again.  This clustering of fans around Angie is the Higgs mechanism.

As the theory goes, there’s a sort of mesh that fills the universe, aka the Higgs field (stick with me).  If something, a particle, moves through it, it creates a bit of distortion — like the crowd around Angie at the party — and that adds mass to that particle.

Now, there’s something called the Standard Model which, at the risk of sounding nerdy, is a quantum mechanical theory that looks at the structure of matter – or how stuff is made.  But good ol’ Higgy thought something was missing from the model because it wasn’t working.  Like when you put together your forecast model but what it spits out doesn’t make sense.  Higgs thought the missing piece was a particle called the Higgs Boson (natch) which is thought to give other particles mass, like the fans giving mass to Angie.  And after 10 years of smashing different particles into each other at a gigantic underground particle smasher (which cost $10 billion to construct), they found the damn thing.  Champagne corks flew, backs were slapped, Higgs wiped a few tears.    Folks are excited because this could lead to new discoveries into how the universe works.   Which to you and me means some cool new National Geographic articles.  And next time I stand on a scale, I will curse the Higgs Boson for giving me extra mass.

So, the lesson?  Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves through Manoj’s blog on simplifying presentations.  Folks, if we can simplify the Higgs Boson discovery, then any marketer can pull together a simple presentation explaining their diaper / mustard / peanut butter strategy