Simple courage

2005

Here we go again. The boss is about to launch into another unnecessarily complicated list of instructions, partnered as ever, with a condescending line on its benefits to the business – oh, and it will be good for your career too! Why do they have to make everything so complicated?

Two reasons: Simplicity takes talent and dedication, and it requires a great deal of courage.

It is much easier to hide a lack of talent, effort and awareness in complicated design. It's also a great way to bypass the boss. They don't like to admit their lack of technical understanding and so they don't challenge you.

What's more, they can relay your technical gobbledygook to senior management safe in the knowledge that the credit is theirs if it works, and the blame is yours if it doesn't.

If you are thinking that sounds like a good thing for all concerned, shame on you, and you are forgetting something. Your personal success is only ensured by the long-term health of the business.

Two or three years down the line when projects and profits begin to fail and senior management are replaced wholesale, who will suffer most? I think you know.

Here comes the best bit; the new management team will make exactly the same mistakes and the cycle and suffering repeats.

Was I asleep when the 11th commandment was unveiled –thou shalt not covet simplicity?

So, is simplicity a sin? Was I asleep when the 11th commandment was unveiled –thou shalt not covet simplicity?

Simplicity is not a deadly sin. Some senior management types will wax lyrical about its merits in public whilst being the greatest offenders in private.

"You don't understand the complexities of the situation" or "Yes, a good idea, but unfortunately there are some things I can't tell you about, that makes that solution impossible." Sound familiar?

After all these years I am still amazed at the groans and gasps that accompany a suggestion to adopt simplicity as a compelling and winning strategy.

"I am a highly paid executive, I'm not paid to do simple things," is one of a variation of amusing replies. When countered with - "as a racing driver, if you drove a race in reverse, off the racing line, finishing last, would you expect applause and another opportunity to race" - they start to get the point.

Such ill-founded justifications are actually a turning point towards change. Once examined in the cold light of logic, it is easy to see the folly.

However, our role is never to condemn, but to understand. Why is simplicity such a dirty word in business?

It takes courage to advocate simplicity. Simplicity has nowhere to hide and neither do those who advocate it. It is almost impossible to hide mistakes in design or implementation under the nakedness of simplicity. No complicated algorithm to hide behind, no political manoeuvrings available to cover my mistakes.

Can you see the exponentially powerful influence simplicity has on individual and business performance?

We are led to believe that complicated equals smarter and better, as if there's some moral bias against simplicity. Not true, it is just fear and only courage can takes fear's place.

At the risk of being accused of presenting an oxymoron, simplicity is hard.

How many lectures have we heard on the dangers of smoking? Are we still smoking? Yes.

Are we bypassing a simple solution in favour of allowing our politician's to endlessly debate our children into early graves? Governments publicly wring their hands in consternation over the dilemma. What dilemma? Make selling tobacco illegal; end of problem.

Ok, I am waiting for the shouts of indignation at my lack of understanding surrounding the complexities of the issue. These are just more of the justifications I get every day from businessmen bemoaning a lack of success whilst fighting hard against the one thing that will ensure it.

Do you have the courage to be simple?

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About The Author

René Da Costa
René Da Costa

René Da Costa is an author and consultant.

Older Comments

Very well put Rene. You won't find any indignation from me as I've been rattling on about this for years now.

We can look at this from two perspectives.

On the down-side, this is an age-old problem that is unlikely to go away. The philosopher Michel de Montaigne was bemoaning man's tendency to complicate back in the 15th century.

On the up-side, those who have the courage to make things simple will always stand out from the crowd and succeed in cutting through. (This must be done with integrity, mind - politicians take note.)

There is ample evidence that simplicity sells, so it makes business sense. The iPod is the stand-out product example of the moment. The challenge for your readers is to find ways that they can make things simpler for their customers and staff.

David Brewster Melbourne, Australia

Very well put Rene. You won't find any indignation from me as I've been rattling on about this for years now.

We can look at this from two perspectives.

On the down-side, this is an age-old problem that is unlikely to go away. The philosopher Michel de Montaigne was bemoaning man's tendency to complicate back in the 15th century.

On the up-side, those who have the courage to make things simple will always stand out from the crowd and succeed in cutting through. (This must be done with integrity, mind - politicians take note.)

There is ample evidence that simplicity sells, so it makes business sense. The iPod is the stand-out product example of the moment. The challenge for your readers is to find ways that they can make things simpler for their customers and staff.

David Brewster Melbourne, Australia

Simple solutions transform perception - look at the latest fad or thinking being sold or carried by word of mouth. If one can understand it, one fears it less.

A bigger challenge, and done well by really only a few, is finding ways to manage and translate increasing complexity, simply.

Simplicity has longevity.

Isabelle London

Spot on, Rene!

I spent many years in industry trying to cut through complexity and getting to the issues. As a consultant to SMEs and entrepreneurs, I can now preach the message of simplicity. Spread the message to the new businesses and hopefully it will stick as the firms grow.

Ray Harmstone Rochdale

Excellent René, thought provoking and, to me, spot on. Now, if only I could spread the message throughout the company.

Trevor Matthews