The Magic of Simplicity

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I love simplicity. Einstein said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. If we speak in simple language, chances are more that we would be better understood. If products are simpler to use, it would make our lives easier.

Unfortunately, most often things are complex. Anyone who has gone through a contract written by a lawyer will agree with me. Try figuring out how to record a program in Tata Sky HD (I recently asked my just-turned-teenage daughter to help me record the Oscar’s!). Try calling your phone service provider’s helpdesk to understand what process complexity can be.

I have often wondered – why are things not simpler? I have come to believe the reason is simple – it is because simplicity is hard.

When we were children, our lives were simple. As we grew up, we forgot about the simplicity we grew up with. We started using jargons, big words, acronyms and almost this compulsive desire to overcomplicate things. Maybe it was to sound smart, maybe to look more credible.

Here’s a question – are today’s cars simpler than those of yesteryears? Well, technology is way more – the electronics, the anti-lock braking, active safety systems and the like. However, to a driver, it is simpler to drive a car today - easier steering (power steering), easier reversing (back camera) and no need to change gears (if it’s an automatic transmission car). So the ‘back-end’ is more complicated but the ‘frond-end’ is simpler.

This needs to be the case in organizations as well. We hear about the elevator speech. But try getting a 20 second answer from a business leader as what his company’s purpose is. Or what is he or she doing to stay ahead of competition? Or keeping his people motivated? You will hear a lot of the challenges, issues – essentially the ‘back-end’ stuff, not necessarily the distilled simpler ‘frond-end’ message which can be easily understood.

As leaders, it is our job to craft, articulate and communicate messages in simple language. 

Years ago, they ran a study of the speaking habits of three well known speakers who were all speaking at the same conference at the same time on the same afternoon. They run a survey and found that the one of the speakers, Bill Gates, speaks at a 11th grade level. The second speaker, Michael Dell of Dell computers speaks at a 9th grade level. The third speaker, Steve Jobs of Apple spoke at a 5th grade level!

True leaders understand the power of simplicity. This manifests in not only their communication, but in all facets of their organizations – the products per se, the range of products, the processes, the after-sales, the incentives, the organizational structures, the policies etc. etc. – put simply, simplicity becomes part of the culture of the organization.

I would love to hear your views. Kindly post your comments and feel free to write to me at suman@inroads.co.in. Simplicity is one of Inroads’ core values.

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