Why Simple is Important in Business

Steve Jobs found pleasure in reducing a product’s feature set. He hated clutter, loved simple. As business leaders, we often have a hard time saying no to new features, products, or initiatives that support growth. However, too much stuff creates complexity and in turn, reduces the organization’s effectiveness. Wharton researchers report that 74% of executives believe complexity is inhibiting their growth strategies and tactics. So why do we keep adding more to the pile?

Simplicity isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap, but it’s priceless. You’ve likely read the grocery study where 14 types of juices were offered on a table display; elsewhere a similar table offered seven items. The table with 14 got more traffic, but the table with seven sold more. In “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”, the authors note how well-meaning companies delight customers at the expense of simply solving their problem. I’m sure you know the feeling (you’re being upsold and cross sold when you just want to get your invoice corrected).

Yes, this is tough when you sell a complex product or solution. But you have to try, because simple always wins over complexity. You’ll never get an overly complex business case approved. And you’ll lose board members with complexity. And you certainly can’t attract buyers with complex messaging.

The business cost of complexity is huge, in both financial and emotional terms. It is more difficult to learn something that has 100 functions than something that has 10 functions. It may be more pleasing to use a tool that has 10 buttons rather than 100. Complex organizations face increased communication costs as coordinated efforts involve more stakeholders. Complex things also frequently have a lot of unique components that may be costly to maintain. For example, troubleshooting software with 1 million lines of code is often more difficult than solving problems on a smaller code base. In short, complex is costly.

There is a way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by complexity, but it takes conscious effort. We have to recognize that although machines may be limitless in their capabilities, humans are not. Humans need boundaries as much as they need sleep. Humans need meaning and connection, and they need these things — as working people or consumers of business products or leaders of businesses themselves — as much they need convenience, speed, or scale.

The former U.S. Navy SEAL Leif Babin, who coaches businesses on leadership principles mentioned in one of his books a business that employed an incentive scheme so multifaceted that none of the company’s employees understood it in the slightest, or felt motivated by it. And yet the originators of the scheme were very eager to defend its merits, as it took so many variables into account.

The moral of the story here is that complexity can lead to confusion, and confusion can fundamentally undermine the supposed “good” inherent in that system/process/product in the first place. Time is our most essential resource in life and business alike, and there’s only so much to go around. Complexity is a great way of squandering more tangible resources, not least of them being money. It was Confucius who said that “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

About the Author

Andrea’s 24-year, field-tested background provides practical, behavioral science approaches to creating differentiated, human-focused organizations. A 4x ADDY award-winner, TEDx presenter, and 3x book author, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic sales, marketing, and customer engagement efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. She now leads a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations differentiate their brands using behavioral science.

In addition to writing and consulting, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world. Connect with Andrea to access information on her book, keynoting, research, or consulting. More information is also available on www.pragmadik.com or www.andreabelkolson.com.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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