On Avoiding Simple

It seems to be part of human nature to make things more complicated than they really are or than they need to be. Over the past few days I’ve been at the Forrester Sales Enablement Conference. Scott Santucci has driven a brilliant theme, calling for sales enablement professionals to become Simpletists—a combination scientist and simplifier. I’ve been surprised, there’s been some resistance to the notion.

It got me to reflecting. Consciously or unconsciously, we seem to have a propensity to avoid simple and simplicity. We’re educated and trained about complexity. In sales, we refer to the complex sales process. We have endless meetings, developing complex plans and strategies to address problems–covering every contingency and exposure. Change initiatives become challenging because of the complexity. We put off addressing difficult issues because of the complexity (as a side note, thanks to the executive branch and Congress for reminding us of this every day).

Simultaneously, we complain about complexity and what it does to our businesses and lives, yet we also revel in it. Somehow it seems tied to our self worth. The more complex, the loftier the title, the more knowledgeable and important we and our companies must be. Presenting very complex solutions to our customers is a demonstration of our value propositions.

Yet as I reflect, the real breakthroughs in business and life are all about simple and simplicity. Amazon re imagined how to take the hassle out of shopping and finding just what we want to buy. Facebook re-imagined how we connect and build relationships. Twitter had the simple notion of communicating in no more than 140 characters. Apple re-imagined the user interface, eliminating buttons, complex key sequences, using natural motions, pinches, swipes, as a way of interacting with our devices. Each of these seem so simple, but required huge amounts of tough thinking and work to achieve.

Then every day we see the elegance of simple in nature and art. The shape of a shell, pictures of sand-dunes, mountains, water flowing–you name it. Simple, elegant, beautiful. We look at those simple things we see in art and nature–then see the underlying complex mathematic equations that are needed to achieve that simple elegance. Yet it all occurs, naturally.

So if there is such elegance in simple, why do we avoid it, why do we gravitate to the complex?

I think it’s because simple is really really difficult. It requires us to be really focused. Simple requires us to understand the essence and core of what we are trying to achieve. Simple requires us to rethink where we have come from and where we want to go—requiring us to abandon much of the baggage we have with legacy systems, thinking, processes and tools. Simple requires us to understand what the customer really wants and needs–not what we think they need, not even what they might say they need–but what they really need. Simple requires an intensity of focus and purposefulness.

Simple demands difficult conversations, alignment, focus, presence, and great clarity. Without that, we can never achieve simplicity.

But the neat thing about simple is it works—-always!

When I was growing up, the artist/inventor Rube Goldberg parodied our propensity to make things very complex with outlandish inventions to do the most simple things in life. We always laughed at the ridiculousness of his inventions. But, more and more, I think we are we are parodying Rube Goldberg.

It turns our complex is really simple to do. We don’t have to think to achieve complex, we don’t have to engage to achieve complex, we don’t have to understand or align to achieve complex. Rather than figuring out what to eliminate, what to stop, all we do is add—add more features, add more functions, add more processes, add more systems, add more terms and conditions, add more confusion. Then when things don’t turn out as we expect, we add more on top, making things even more comp

We create great complexity in our conversations with customers–as they do with us. We avoid directness because it gets straight to the heart of things, instead having very complex interactions circling each other, attributing motives, and motivations, rather than just asking and responding.

We revel in complexity because we can escape ownership and accountability. We can find a reason for not achieving goals, we can create an excuse.

So complex is easy and simple is very very difficult!

But there is that simple fact—simple works, and it always works.

So somehow, if we really want to achieve results. Some how we ought to look for simplicity.

It works, it is elegant, it is filled with beauty, and it makes use better.

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