Simple Isn’t Simple
Any fool can create complex.
Complexity leads to confusion.
Confusion leads to uncertainty.
Uncertainty produces cowardice.
Cowards never take meaningful action.
Longfellow said, “… in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”
John Maxwell said, “The leaders job is reducing rather than adding to complexity.” (Chick-fil-A Leadercast 2013)
Lousy leaders confuse – exceptional leaders clarify.
All successful leaders clarify by creating simplicity.
The challenge with finding simplicity is it sounds simple and easy. But, John Maxwell rightly indicates the path to simplicity always encounters complexity. Cloudy and confused always precedes clear and simple. Expect it.
If you haven’t felt confusion, you haven’t found simplicity.
Out of the fog:
Courageously create confusion by pressing for clarity. It’s the only path to simplicity.
“I’m not sure,” always precedes, “That’s it!”
Andy Stanley said, “If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you’re going to have a hard time doing it.” (Chick-fil-A Leadercast 2013)
Make simplicity your day-to-day strategy. Complexity and it’s partner confusion are inevitable, apart from intervention.
Make simplicity your operational priority. Ask:
- Can we explain this in common, understandable language?
- What’s confusing?
- How are we more clear? (Great after conversations) Don’t ask, “Are we more clear?” If you can’t explain it, you haven’t found it.
- Have we included those closest to the action in this decision?
- Where are we fearful? (Complexity and fear are bedfellows)
- After meetings ask, “Where are the points of highest clarity?”
- How are we creating strategic confusion – confusion that occurs on the path to simplicity?
Bonus: Ask obvious, simple questions like, “What are we doing?”
Andy Stanley said the best thing he did, when he was a young leader, was create one sentence job descriptions for himself and his team.
Write a simple – one sentence – job description that captures the essences of your job. Live that sentence everyday.
Note: Special thanks to the Chick-fil-A Leadercast team for inviting me to this years event.
How can you make simplicity your mantra?
What are the essential steps on the path to simplicity?
Good Morning Dan! I have always loved the quote by Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
This quote has been a learning model for achievement for me. If I can not explain things to others simply and I do not know it well enough then how can I expect others to understand.
If I ever find myself not being able to explain it simply to someone then I go back and try to learn it better myself. It has been my experience that when we truly know about something that it flows from us easily.
What’s challenging about your comment is, if others don’t clearly understand us then we don’t understand/know well enough. Powerful!!
If we are creating confusion, it’s because we are confused!
Good post Dan. I think one of the first essential step on the path to simplicity is learning to listen to people. As leaders, of teams or homes or church, we are surrounded by people who actually know how to get a few things done better than we do.
Leaders often complicate processes and tasks, rather than simplifying work, by overlaying their own baggage and agendas to a something that is much more clearly understood by the individuals involved.
Talk to people. Ask questions. Listen to their answers. Then move forward as a team
For me simple is the only option cause I am a simple fella.
For me I find people who have what I want. Find out what they think, do and say. Then I do my best to think what they think, do what they do, say what they say.
What’s working to a most amazing degree lately is
1. Here is what I got
2. Here is what it will do for u
3. Here is what I need you to do next
Dude I got this from using this simple strategy with his buddies sold about 24 million dollars worth of their stuff on the Internet in one day.
Till I out produce Frank Kern and his buddies they know better than me so I will just keep doing 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3 till I get to 24 million in a day or I croak
Working for me believe it will work for u. Simple enough for ya? Hehe
Take care Dan,
Shifterp(Scott) Out! I Concur
The leader’s inability to simplify matters is what leads to frustration and low morale for others. An effective leader is able to clearly explain,simplify, and synthesize new initiatives and mandates and how they will contribute to the fulfillment of the mission of the organization. When we’re able to explicitly articulate next steps to reach our goals we will be able to carry out our jobs successfully.
I liked the one sentence job description to simplify and clarify work.
The way I personally make myself swear by simplicity is realize that complexity is always done poorly. That’s the harsh reality. When you think you’re being creative and WOWING everyone, you miss out on the fact that most people are going to be confused and think to themselves, “Why?”
They ask themselves why because sometimes it is just unnecessary to be over-the-top. Always strive for simple so everyone understands you completely and try to be concise.
My approach is to view pretty much everything through a simple lens: my Square Wheels One wagon.
Guy pulls with rope.
People push from back.
Wagon “rolls” on wooden Square Wheels.
Cargo of wagon: round rubber tires.
Most everywhere one looks, things thump and bump along. Most customer service transactions. Most company call directors. Most systems and processes.
Pretty much everywhere, there exists an Exceptional Performer, someone who simply does things better. They use Round Wheels in this Square Wheel World.
So, identify and clarify. Discuss. Share. Support. Implement more broadly if that make sense.
CONTINUOUS continuous improvement of best practices that already exist, which applies to personal leadership practices (modeling) and organizational performance improvement (team building, engagement, intrinsic motivation, etc.).
Issue: You will / should never be truly satisfied with anything. Get over it.
Have FUN out there!
Dan. I want to share this at my day job. I preach this all the time. Nice work
I’ve always tried to find balance – simple is needed to start and motivate, but there are tasks with undeniable complexity. I’ve used this Einstein quote as a guide, “make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”. This provides both direction and limits.
Your post reminded me of a life scenario about fifteen years ago, the first time I was call into a Board of Directors Meeting, I march into a pre-meeting with my boss carrying about twenty of the acetate overhead slides we used in that era. My boss looked up and said “What’s all that?” “My slides for the meeting..” My boss gently responded “Ken if you can’t explain it in two or three slides these guys will think you don’t know what you’re doing.”
That simplicity message stuck with me and has served me well.
DeVinci said ” simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. It made Jobs and Apple.
Can it really be simple? YES!!! You bet. Leaders who depend on the complex, complicate the process.
There is a flip-side to simplicity. In many areas making things simple means adding complexity. The automation of any task usually means you must complicate it first. The end results may be simplicity but the means to that simplicity is complex. Technology is that way. But in all things we must seek simplicity.
Simplicity is not as simple as one might think for some. Allowing time to think is essential and not often afforded. Giving some the time to mull is often key.
The word “fool” closes minds and doesn’t help bring along the confused thinker. Perhaps you could choose another description.
It’s my time to mull at the moment.
How to make simplicity my mantra? For me, it starts with my schedule. Jim Wideman teaches that others can learn a lot about our true priorities by simply glancing at our schedule. Ouch! So I’ve been working on simplifying my work schedule for better productivity in the things that matter most. Not perfect yet, but on the road to balance.
Dan, I’m a bit late on this one, but want to respond anyway. I am a very big fan of keeping things simple. Sometimes, due to the fact that many of my colleagues have limited local language skills and educational quualifications, my “keep it simple” mantra is misinterpreted to having a lack of belief in the capabilities of these colleagues. That’s when I explain that keeping it simple is even more important when I am presenting to the Board or the Executive Committee. Their days are so busy, agendas so long and challenges so great, that I need to present my case as simply as possible so they understand it in the brief window of time I have. Not only do they have to understand it, but they also have to buy into it and hopefully start living my mantra too!
So far it’s worked pretty well for a pretty long time and I continue to live my simple sentence today. I even use it as my sign off in all correspondence one way or the other.
Stay safe and
Simplicity is not achieved by just leaving things out. It’s a craft that has to be mastered. In my experience much complexity is simplicity done poorly.
I once read the term ‘elegant simplicity’ and it stroke a chord. Real simplicity has an inherent beauty; it has something that just feels ‘right’. And boy, I have seen the ‘ugly’ simplicity created by amateurs… because I was one of them many times.
Perfection is not achieved when nothing can be added but when there’s nothing than can be left out.
Reblogged this on lewandog and commented:
Simplicity is incredibly difficult, especially in a corporate setting. It only takes a few rational folks like ourselves to make a difference, and expose others to the beauty in simple…
Oliver Wendell Holmes encouraged us to “find the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I think of this quote a lot because often we look for the fast solution that is the Daniel Kahneman Type 1 thinking. We need to search for the simplicity that honours how complex situations are in the type 2 thinking (Thinking Fast and Slow). This always takes time and rich conversations. I think of these simple solutions as Win-Win.