Leadership and Simplicity


Leadership and Simplicity

One of the most effective ways to order your world is to simplify everything you encounter. However the problem for many is keeping it simple often becomes very difficult when our basic human nature is to over-complicate everything we touch. In thinking about the people I respect the most, to the one, they possess the uncanny ability to take the most complicated of issues and simplify them. You will find that the best leaders, communicators, teachers, innovators, etc., have a true knack for taking extremely complex, dense, or intricate content and making it engaging and easy to understand. In fact, it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said: “simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” In today’s post I’ll take a look at the often overlooked benefits of keeping it simple…

While simplicity may have become a lost art, understanding the importance of simplicity is nonetheless critical to your success. Consider all the presentations/meetings you’ve attended in the last few weeks; was it the people who were able to articulate their positions in a simple and straight forward fashion, or the individuals that made things complex and tedious that got traction with their ideas? It has been my experience that the more complicated, difficult, or convoluted an explanation is, that one or both of the following issues are at play: 1) the person speaking is a horrible communicator, or; 2) the person speaking really doesn’t possess a true command of their subject matter. It is one thing to toss around the latest buzz-words or to have the most complex flow chart, but it is quite another thing to actually possess such a deep and thorough understanding of your topic that you can make even the most complex issues easy to understand.

It is almost as if business people have come to believe that complexity is synonymous with sophistication and savvy. It has been my experience that the only things that “complexity” is synonymous with are increased costs and failed implementations. There is an old saying in the software development world that states “usability drives adoptability” which tends to lend support to my observations. Those of you that know me have come to understand that I prefer to cut to the chase and get to the root of an issue as quickly as possible – this requires the ability to simplify, not complicate matters. Complexity is precisely what plagues many businesses. You don’t solve complicated matters by adding to the complexity. The most effective way to deal with complexity is to strip it away by addressing it with simplicity.

The truth is that simplifying something doesn’t make it a trite or incomplete endeavor. Rather simplification makes for a more productive and efficient effort that is often more savvy than other more complex alternatives. Another benefit of simplicity is that it serves as a key driver of focus, which enables greater efficiency, productivity, and better overall performance. Keeping things simple allows you to focus on one thing at a time without the distractions that complexity breeds by its nature alone. I would suggest that you break down every key area of your business (operations, administration, marketing, branding, sales, finance, IT, etc.) and attempt to simplify your processes, initiatives, and offerings.

As a C-level executive you must focus on simplifying your day in order to maximize your effectiveness. By simplifying everything from the information and reports you view, to your communications protocol, to your agenda, to your decisioning structure, you will be better able to operate in today’s unnecessarily complex world. I’ll leave you with this quote from Longfellow: “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

What say you?

Related Post: How Dumb is Your Business?

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    Michael Jährling

    April 3, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Hi Mike,

    Hear Hear. Seems we’ve become enamored of complexity; if it’s complex it must be sophisticated, nuanced, above us. People hide behind complexity. Truth is, most things reduce down to fundamentals; those few ideas, concepts, or elements upon which everything else depends. Identify those, and you’ve grasped what you need to. The rest is detail, and at C-Level, don’t sweat the details.


    Jarmo Lahtiranta

    April 4, 2013 at 4:22 am

    A great post once again. It reminds me of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein:
    Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

    With both software development and business processes it’s easy to just add new features as new needs arise, and end up with a jumbled mess. Simplifying on the other hand requires understanding the whole field – knowing what to take out and what to merge together.

    One approach I’ve found useful is that when people ask for things that complicate matters, I assume that their request is a single case in a bigger picture. Someone else might come the next day with a similar request. Then I try to think of a generic solution that covers all the cases. Usually this results in both greater understanding of the underlying problems, and a solution that improves things as a whole.

      Mike Myatt

      April 4, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Thanks Jarmo – Einstein had a few great quotes on simplicity, and no single person in recent history understood it’s power more than he did.

    Bill Podszus, Ph.D.

    April 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Great post. As a student of history and of leadership, and especially military leadership, I was reminded of the story of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot. He didn’t bother to untie the knot, as requested, but rather, cut through it, thereby subjugating the Phrygians. (No messy flow charts and spreadsheets needed – he just “cut” to the chase. Pun intended.) While I am fully aware that this story is often used to illustrate creative thinking and problem solving “outside the box,” I think that it is entirely relevant to Mike’s point, in that Alexander simplified the situation in terms of decision making, effectiveness and outcomes. So can we in today’s day and age with the challenges that we face and the outcomes that we desire. Keep up the great posts Mike – I greatly enjoy your insights.

      Mike Myatt

      April 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      The Gordian Knot is one of my favorite stores, and you point is well taken. Thanks Bill.

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