At Forma, we work with companies in the life sciences to Make the Complex Compelling. In this sector, there is lots of subject matter that is complex. The borders of knowledge have been pushed back quite far, so the questions being addressed are often very complex. And the audience is often technically sophisticated. They have lots of detailed questions that can require complex answers.

In the middle of all this complexity, it is worth asking: What makes something “compelling?”

When something is compelling, it evokes interest or attention in a powerful way. It is persuasive and has the power to induce action or belief. But there are a couple of misconceptions about making something compelling. One is that if you make something simpler, you will make it more compelling. The other misconception is related to this one: if you make something less multi-layered, you will automatically make it more compelling.

Compelling does not necessarily mean simple, though simple ideas can sometimes be compelling. Simplifying some ideas can make them easier to understand, which can evoke interest. However, concepts can be simplified to the point of banality or uselessness.  Just look at political debate to see how ideas can be simplified until they are useless for a rational discussion and only suitable for scoring points at your opponents’ expense.

Compelling does not necessarily mean one-dimensional, though many one-dimensional ideas can be compelling. Many ideas are compelling specifically because of their multi-dimensional nature. Layer upon layer of inference can add meaning, which can make the experience richer and more compelling. Think of a movie without a musical score – definitely less compelling.

Much scientific theory is multi-dimensional and not necessarily simple. We are just beginning to peel back all the layers of meaning in the action of the genome (inhibitory RNA is just one example). What we find is not necessarily simple, and is definitely multi-dimensional. Despite this, it is very compelling.

Being “Compelling” does not come from making something simpler or less multi-dimensional. In the end, for something to be judged compelling, you have to ask: “Compelling for whom?” The audience is a key player in this effort, and if you don’t understand their motivations, their beliefs and their worldview, you will never have a chance to create compelling communications.