The Importance of Good Definitions (Or: How To Think Clearly)

Visakan Veerasamy
Visakan Veerasamy
October 29, 2013
2 min read
The Importance of Good Definitions (Or: How To Think Clearly)

In this article

If you've been reading our blog (thank you!), you may have noticed that we've been spending quite a bit of time defining things. Here are some of the definition posts we've done:

A definition is a statement which captures the meaning, the use, the function and the essence of a term or a concept."

Why bother defining stuff at all?

Good definitions are valuable assets.  They allow us to assess situations better, have more meaningful conversations, and make better decisions. In contrast, imprecise definitions make it difficult to even agree on what we're talking about. The conversations end up circling around, going nowhere.

A really good definition is generative. It creates value beyond its intended purpose of describing something effectively. Our definition of social media very naturally led us to realize why people are so annoying on social media. It also helped us see how social media disrupted traditional media. We didn't set out to answer those questions- the definition led us there.

A thorough understanding of something lends itself to potentially useful insights.

So why isn't the world full of fantastic definitions?

It ain't easy. Getting at a good definition requires lots of deliberation, rigorous examination and stress-testing. You should've seen us arguing amongst ourselves to arrive at a working definition for social media! It's challenging, and not at all a "low-hanging fruit". For more complex circumstances, it can take years of experience to come up with a simple, useful definition. This thankless pursuit typically scares off the "quick-and-easy" folks.

That's it, actually. Few people take the trouble to really, really know their stuff. It's never crowded along the extra mile.

For a definition to be useful, it has to be:

1. Precise. Not vague, and not convoluted. It should have as few elements ("moving parts") as possible.

2. Falsifiable. This is typically a function of precision. The more precise you are about something, the easier it is for others to point out when you're wrong. This is a good thing, because it then allows you to revise your definition. This allows for healthy, constructive discussions that are focused on outcomes rather than personal egos.

Applications for Ecommerce & Marketing:

Definitions are useful in practically any field. They help us think and communicate more clearly, which in turn help us understand our businesses (our customers, our product, our processes, our value-proposition, etc) better.

You should define:

Your customers. We all have an idea of who our customers or users are, and we often mistake the map for the territory. Getting a good definition of our target audience/market requires actual interaction with the target market. We've found that a lot of our successful retailers started out by solving a problem that they had themselves.

Your product. What is it, exactly? What does it do? Why should anybody want it? How is it different from everything else in the market? Who is it not for?

Your processes. What are the components of your business, and what purpose does each element serve? If you're working on a content marketing strategy, for instance, what is it trying to achieve?

A problem well-stated is half-solved.

The challenge is to identify your problems, and to understand them better than anybody else. This will very naturally lead to valuable insights that you won't be able to get from reading an "8 Things You Need To Do" list.

Relevant reading:


Visakan Veerasamy
Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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