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The Overlooked Power of Simplicity in Business

Simplicity In Business: What it is, how it works, and why so many businesses struggle with it.

Business tends to be littered with complexity. After all, as an organization succeeds and begins to expand, it also adds a whole bunch of new moving parts to its operations in the form of people, process, products and, yes, problems that few company leaders could possible predict. In essence, as a company grows the wheel of doing business adds a growing number of complex cogs and, if not properly managed, this can actually stifle a company’s potential to succeed.

Steve Jobs, someone who’s life work united advanced technology and simple applications for daily life, had this to say about the challenges of simplicity. “Simple can be harder than complex,” he said, “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Warren Buffet’s take on simplicity is evident in this telling quote, “The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.”

So what is simplicity?

In terms of business, simplicity is a focused agenda to eliminate unnecessary and ineffective processes; to streamline operations and focus a company’s collective energy on developing the business strategically, rather than just using growth as a measure. In essence, simplicity in business is a way of addressing the great number of complexities and changes that arise in an organization over the years. Of course, this requires leadership that believes simple works better and that can be a big challenge unto itself.

Why would management go with complex over simple?

One reason is that striving for simplicity is harder to justify than working within a complex system. We’ve been conditioned to believe that complex equates to more advanced or more intelligent solutions. Therefore, many business leaders are more comfortable in an environments that are complex. It’s what they’re used to and what they’ve invested their time and energy working in throughout their careers.

Another reason is simply the fear of the unknown. Simple is harder than complex. It requires making some tough changes that will dramatically impact the organization. It mean stepping out of the comfort zone and admitting that years of time and money spent working with complexity are not leading to the desired results.

What’s so bad about complexity?

For starters, let’s take things down to a purely human level. Our human minds are naturally drawn toward simplicity, not complexity. So, the more complex the situation, the more difficult it is for most of us to function at our level best. On a larger scale, the same can be said for businesses. When things get too complex it stifles performance. It takes longer to make collective decisions and implement programs. It requires more time for people to understand how to work within and manipulate complex and often unclear processes. The more layers of complexity throughout an organization – new departments, new software and technology, new processes, new products, new corporate structure, new rules, overlapping functions, divergent directions – the more difficult it is to weave together a successful path forward. People get stressed out and the company gets mired in confusion, neither of which are productive.

Tips to being simple and focused

Simple will mean different things to different types and sizes of companies. However, there are some best practices and rather interesting concepts that just might help transform your complex operations into more streamlined and focused successes.

  1. Outline goals and keep the list short

Thinking simple starts with simplifying your company’s goals. It’s important to set clear and reasonable goals. It’s also important to keep the number of goals limited. After all, if you’re trying to get your thinking clean and concise, you can’t have a lot of varied goals as part of your growth strategy. Also, focus on a few key projects at a time, and make sure you’ve actually completed them before moving on to new action items. Effective goal management is essentially making sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Remember, simplicity is about accomplishing more because you’re preoccupied with less. A good rule of thumb is to focus on key areas that generate revenue and say goodbye to those that aren’t leading to any worthwhile ROI.

  1. Consider the power of six and the hexagon

Julia Hobsbawn, in a piece sponsored by the Harvard Business School, presents a fascinating take on simplicity and how corporate leaders can achieve it. She cites a variety of resources in her article related to the human ability to keep things in our working memories, as well as our innate need for structure. Her theory, as it applies to company leadership, pins down simplicity into six fundamental principles, as well as a hexagonal visual concept, that she believes will lead to more agile and lean ways of working. These six keys are summarized as follows:

Boundaries – understand your limits and the limits of others around you. Do not try to do much at once.

Rest and Resets – ‘always being on’ is bound to lead to burnout and failure. Take pause, recharge, find those moments of calm.

Scheduling – control your schedule and make sure it has downtime that works for you. Consider blocking off a specified amount of time to answer emails, as well as time to work without internet or phone interruptions.

The Human Dimension – remember that people are at the center of any work execution. Think less about numbers and timeframes and more in understanding what and how much people are capable of accomplishing.

The Hexagon – This is the visual component of the ‘simplicity six’. The hexagon has six sides which Hobsbawn uses as an example modeling teams and projects based on geometry and the science of shape. Clear boundaries, precise angles, and defined structure all help guide a simplified approach to turn strategy into action.

View Organizations as Superorganisms – A company is made up of different people who have different ideas, insights and talents. A leader doesn’t just understand this; a leader harnesses these differences into a simple and unified agenda that leads to clear and focused productivity.

  1. Identify your internal obstacles

Take a good hard look at the internal complexity of your business. Are your processes absurdly complicated? Is there clear communication across your organization? Does marketing align with your company’s mission and vision? Are you trying to be too many things to too many people? One of the first steps towards simplicity in business is to identify all those factors jumbling things up and added more complexity inside your own walls.

  1. Select a strategy and the right tools

Simple can be harder than complex. Achieving it takes enough discipline, foresight and fortitude to look beyond the status quo and make the conscious effort to do things differently.

In what is a somewhat of an ironic twist, today’s advanced technology is actually helping businesses simplify. For example, innovative data capture solutions are providing businesses with real-time transparency into their operations, making it easier to identify areas where complex problems are outpacing simple solutions.

Having this clear vision is a big step toward achieving simplicity in business.

If you found this blog helpful and are interested in learning more about the new ways data solutions are driving success, Also, check out our other blog posts that discuss retail technology and how you can leverage it for your business.

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