The Art Of Simple

This Week’s Focus Point

If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now. – Woodrow Wilson

Simple is hard, and grossly underestimated.

We all have a tendency to over-complicate everything in our lives.

A great proof is how many ‘fad-diets’ there have been over the last decade… Atkins, Dukan, Lemon Detox, Ketogenic, Paleo, Intermittent Fasting (Start Stop, 5/2, 16:8, 20:4), Baby Food (really?), Cabbage Soup, Low-Carb, Low-Fat, Bodybuilder… …. you get the idea. Each of these diets have their proponents and detractors. All are based on an arbitrary set of rules (sometimes with some scientific backing). What’s healthy? Who knows!

The issue is, too often we use complexity as a crutch for poor decision making or to excuse poor performance. 

This is the case both within our personal lives and our businesses.

Don’t worry – I’ll take it easy on you…
This week I only want you to consider complexity within your business.

Here’s a recent example: I have seen businesses require their staff report against eight different progress indicators on the one project. Eight!

You know your oversight processes are convoluted when you are managing that many control points for a simple change initiative.

The real impact of that set up was that the pressing message and key points were lost in the noise, project managers spent too long creating the reports and shady-operators were able to hide their poor performance.

In contrast, I often work with clients to create what I call the ‘15 Minute Status Meeting‘. Right people, right information, right discussion, right decisions. In and out in 15 minutes. The underpinning principle: Simplicity. 

Or perhaps your organisation thinks it requires the creation of a $300k document to explain why it should invest $2M in a new team that it already knows it wants and needs. Usually a $30k scoping exploration would have sufficed…

These kind of things are found all across every organisation.

It’s especially infuriating for your customers when they are exposed to it. They don’t care who needs to approve what, whether your folders are blue, or where the moon is in relation to your building. Your (internal and external) customers just want their service to be easy and comprehensible.

Are you giving them that?

I recently emailed a business asking for an ETA on a partial refund I was expecting and that had already been agreed on.

The reply: ‘The refund needs to go through the APAC Group Processing approval processes, then it will be added to the next refund cycle‘.

My thought: I don’t care who needs to approve it! I just asked an ETA on when I should expect the $$s in my account.

End result: it took well over a month to arrive in my account… (turns out their complexity was a veiled attempt at explaining their poor performance).

We need to stop trying to cover our backsides with the shroud of complexity and just address the simple questions!

Your Weekly Challenge

This week:

Where have you built complexity into your life or business?
I guarantee at least one thing will pop into mind here.

Is the complexity truly needed?

A quick little test to get to the real root of what you are trying to do is to ask ‘so what?’ to your current results. Sometimes it takes a few ‘so what?’s to get to what’s truly needed.

Once you are there – just keep asking that new, simplified question from now on.

Re-using a project reporting example again:

‘Our project staff are taking substantial leave over January. We cannot stop them.’
So What?
‘We won’t hit our February target date’.
So What?
‘The $30,000 in new expected revenue for February will never be realised. However, this is only 2% of our total expected return over the course of the project life.’
OK, let’s do X…

In the example above the new, simplified question becomes ‘is there anything impacting our expected new revenues?’. The conversation flows from there.

Try it, and take an axe to your complexity.

This Week’s Thought Pulses

Leadership & Performance

The difference between a good and a great leader is the ability to communicate with simple clarity.

Momentum & Energy

There is a direct correlation between the level of unnecessary complexity and the level of trust in your staff. The higher the trust, the higher the simplicity.

Delivery & Oversight

Keep it simple. Monitor threats to only those areas that make or break the project investment case.


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