“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius
“For many years now, you and I have been…told there are no simple answers to the complex questions which are beyond our comprehension. Well, the truth is, there are simple answers there are just not easy ones.” – Ronald Reagan
I think if people could just focus on their simple core values, their lives would be much easier and much more fulfilling. The main problem is that most of us lack focus and are very susceptible to the temptations of the world. In fact, at Credo (credofinance.flywheelsites.com), #6 of The Credo Way is: Our ability to stay focused gives us an unfair advantage against our competition; simple is better than complex.
Large corporations spend a lot of time trying to come up with ad campaigns that have short, impactful catch phrases. For example, take Nike’s “Just do it”. I wonder how much that cost to come up with? At Credo (credofinance.flywheelsites.com), we are no different. We like to boil it down to “Results Matter”. I set this precedent because I want to make sure the people at Credo clearly understand that although how we do things is important, in the end, what matters most is results. And, that doesn’t mean results for us, it means results for our clients. Making efforts and working hard is not enough. Results are the key to fulfilling any mission. There are a lot of people that may not like to hear that, but it’s the world we live in.
There is a business owner in my Convene group (convenenow.com) that likes to say, “Be bright. Be brief. Be gone.” I love that! I must admit that I don’t quite have as much courage as he does to spout that off every time someone comes into my office. But, there’s a lesson to be learned there. What he’s saying is…boil it down for me – tell me what the issue is and what decision I need to make. Then, get outta here and make it happen!
The secret of America? One word: freedom. We are the most successful nation inside the shortest period of time the world has ever seen. Why? Because people have freedom. That’s what it boils down to. What if every other nation on Earth gave their people the same freedoms? That one fact alone, I would be willing to bet, would radically change the world for the better. Again, I certainly believe that simple concepts can have great power. Great leaders know this, and they certainly use it to their advantage.
For some reason, most organizations are naturally attracted to making things complicated. And, it can be very satisfying to make sense of the complex. Maybe it gives us some sense of power or some misguided sense of purpose? Or, feelings of pride? – the sort that comes from knowing extraneous stuff that others don’t. I’m not 100% sure, but it certainly seems terribly inefficient and wasteful.
On the other hand, great leaders are very attracted to the simplicity that comes from a clearly articulated “Why are we doing this?”. There is simplicity in remembering that who we are and why we are doing it is as important as what we are doing. There is simplicity that comes from being as comfortable with not knowing all the answers, as we are when we do.
We tend to get so tied up in complexity – in managing complex processes or managing people in a complex way – that we so easily forget about the power of simplicity. It’s the simple things people remember. The simple action, the simple word. Again, this is why companies spend so much time on simple catch phrases or mottos for their business. They want to boil it down into a powerful, succinct message about their brand. They know it’s the simple things that become absorbed in a culture.
Great leaders have an instinctual ability to make things simple. They bring clarity to chaotic circumstances. There is a very important distinction between management and effective leadership. Management can be complex. Leadership can be very simple indeed.
A famous author named Jim Collins wrote about the virtues of simplicity in a book titled, Great By Choice. One concept he poses is SMaC — “Specific, Methodical and Consistent.” He explains, “SMaC is not the same as a strategy, culture, core values, purpose or tactics.” Rather, it is a “set of durable principles that create a replicable and consistent success formula.” In other words, if it works, is repeatable and it adds value to what you do, it is worthwhile following.
If you are reading this and are currently in a leadership position, I would encourage you to pose the following questions for some thought and reflection:
- What is our goal? — Always keep the big picture outcome in mind. When working on any project, it’s easy to get distracted. Keep the goal firmly in mind. Post it on your wall if you need to.
- What can we do to simplify things? Ask this question every single day!! Consider what you can stop doing. It is often easier to stop doing something than adding something new. Prune! Simplify! Minimalism works! By looking to remove things, you can add to the power of simplicity. At the same time, don’t look to cut for the sake of cutting. Value comes from doing what it is right, so don’t cut anything that is on mission or critical to quality.
- What can we do to ensure consistent results? If what you are doing is not repeatable, you probably don’t need a checklist. But, ensuring consistent results is why we need to adhere to process. Ensuring that people know their jobs and are properly equipped is essential.
If you get anything from this week’s post, get this: Complexity is the enemy of simplicity. There, I just boiled it down for you!
Jesus definitely boiled it down and made things simple to understand. The scriptures can be complex and packed with a lot of volume in teachings, writings, laws, etc. When the Pharisees tried to trip him up and asked him what the most important law is, he answered, “The law boils down to this one. Love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself” (See Matthew Chapter 22). There is a Methodist church near where I live that has a motto, “Love God. Love People.” This is an even further simplistic way to describe the most important law. Car magnets with this motto on it are all over the community. When you think about it, it’s pretty darn simple!
By boiling it down like this, Jesus showed us that it is an effective and powerful method to take the complex and simplify it. It is ok to do this, and it is not ungodly. I don’t believe that God tries to make it overly complex for us. He makes it simple. We just fail miserably at the execution part.