A Golden Rule of Successful Organizations: Simplicity
In an increasingly dynamic and competitive business world, we often confuse performance with complexity. Experienced players or newcomers in the market, large and small companies are equally vulnerable to the temptation of entangling their own processes and procedures, condemning themselves to failure. On the opposite side, organizations that are constantly guided by simplicity benefit from an undeniable advantage.
Simplicity seems to define itself, not needing many explanations. However, the fact that we can so easily slip into complexity proves that the art of simplicity requires a special vision.
At Apple, NeXT, then back at Apple, Steve Jobs offered the world a successful model derived from his unwavering devotion to simplicity. Over more than 12 years of close collaboration with him, Ken Segall, a creative director at the Chiat/Day advertising agency, has had the opportunity to capture the essence of a business intelligently focused on simplicity.
The result: the bestseller “Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success”, a book that takes us beyond the universe of Steve Jobs precisely because simplicity is a fundamental value, to which any organization can relate if it is willing to fight consistently in this regard.
Simple, but not simplistic. Intelligent, but not complicated
It is easy to identify complexity around us: blocked processes in the burdensome chain of procedures, hierarchies and departments, endless meetings and an overall feeling of inflexibility. As Segall points out, in many companies the activity has become so formal and institutionalized, that they are not capable of changing their own behaviour, even if it would bring them great benefit.
By contrast, simplicity impregnated in an organization’s DNA is a rare and precious source of power. “If your company is ever to fail, you can be sure it won’t be the fault of simplicity – it will be the result of its absence.”
Knowing how not to complicate requires a balanced mix of creativity, intelligence, common sense, spontaneity, incisiveness, honesty and passion. In other words, simplicity needs brains, but also heart. Beyond professionalism and competence, simplicity means naturalness and authenticity, which makes it so difficult to copy.
How to establish and maintain simplicity in your organization
Grouped under suggestive titles (“Think Small”, “Think Motion”, “Think Casual”, “Think Human”, etc.), Ken Segall’s recommendations can help both individuals and organizations build a coherent path to simplicity:
• When we are very honest and avoid partial truths, asking others to treat us likewise, the team gets more productive and the whole atmosphere is more positive.
• A key component of simplicity’s success is working in small groups of smart people, with the regular participation of the final decision maker. This way, people will be more focused and motivated, delivering better results.
• Minimizing messages through simple sentences that communicate one idea at a time has a stronger impact than multiple messages. “A sea of choices is no choice at all. When in doubt, minimize!”
• In promotion campaigns, conceptual images that capture the essence of an idea are very powerful. In choosing the name of the products and in everything else you try to communicate, the most effective is to express your ideas simply and clearly. That way, simplicity “tells customers who you are and what you sell.”
• Any project must have a balanced time frame, neither too short nor too long, in order not to leave room for superficiality and too many changes of mind.
• A casual and deeply human style, adopted both internally and in customer interactions, helps to create trusting relationships and brings favourable results.
• Sometimes, when you innovate, you can make mistakes, for example by launching a product that is not as well received as you expected. If you quickly recognize and correct your errors (e.g. by withdrawing that product), you can elegantly move forward, and customers will appreciate your honesty.
• In some situations, it is good to be sceptical about negativity or a first refusal. “It can’t be done” can actually mean “it can be done, but with a lot of effort”. True leaders have the ability to grasp the essence of a context and not compromise from the ideas they believe in because their final goal is to offer their customers the best products.
• Fighting with fair play and ingenuity in a competitive environment means to rely on one of the most effective weapons that simplicity keeps intact: the pure passion for what you do.
Paradoxically, few companies manage to stay true to simplicity, even when they understand that this is an excellent strategy. Simplicity is appealing, but it needs impeccable consistency and the ability to firmly eliminate any deviation from clarity and common sense.
How do you think you could simplify your work and with what benefits?
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