Simple is not Easy

Ed Byrne

There’s a lot of power in simplicity. The best writers and communicators tend to write in short sentences and use common words so that their audience can quickly understand the message, and not spend too many brain cycles deciphering the words.

Simple ideas spread faster. Simple ideas are easier to remember. Simple ideas are more shareable — and suffer less dilution and misinterpretation as they spread.

Obviously the opposite of simple is complex.

Complex ideas often sound smart — but are not. Complex ideas can fall apart once they get started, and tend to need the originator to be a big part of them, as the message is too complicated for others to run with on their own.

We are not encouraged enough in business to work on distilling ideas and messages down to their simplest, and most direct, form. In fact it is the opposite — especially for young and up-and-coming executives — they fear simple is the enemy of intelligent, and therefore hinders their progress.

I’m reminded of the classic ‘Microsoft redesigns the iPod packaging’ video. No sacrifice — no simple message — rather it’s put everything there so people can find out everything they need — which of course results in it communicating nothing.

Another issue is simple gets conflated with easy. This is not true. There is nothing necessarily easy about a simple concept. ‘5000 songs in your pocket’ is a simple idea but you can be sure it was not easy to deliver that.

I get accused of over-simplifying things (on a regular basis!) — and of course there is some truth to that! But the real issue isn’t over-simplifying, it’s that simplifying implies ease.

Again, this is not true.

There is power in distilling a project that at face-value sounds daunting and complex down to a few simple tasks or milestones that achieve the bulk of the goal.

The tasks themselves might have multiple steps, involve multiple stakeholders, and each take an investment of time and energy to complete.

Recruiting is simple — identify people, contact them, qualify them, interview candidates that make it that far, and offer the role to the best one(s). But this is hard work, for certain roles it can be VERY hard work! No one in the current economy would say recruiting is easy — it absolutely is not — but this does not mean it’s complex.

Moving to a new billing system sounds complicated — but if you put your solutions-hat on and try and distill down some simple actions — it might just turn out that what sounds daunting at face-value, is actually doable with a few simple actions, albeit that they are time consuming and hard work. For example — take each customer contract as it renews, and each new customer signed up, and manually add them to the new billing system. Over a 12 month period 100% of customers are moved.

Of course there are fall-out factors like running 2 billing systems, so maybe an all-hands effort to move every customer over a 1-month period (if it’s a manageable amount of accounts) would be better.

The point is — don’t be closed to ‘simplifying’, remember that it doesn’t imply ‘easy’ — and if you can start with a simple idea and goal — it’ll be easier to align the more complex sub-tasks towards getting it done.

You don’t hear many stories of simplifying and succeeding — typically it’s the complex ones people like to share. If you have any examples of how simplifying opened the door to a win — please share in the comments!

Ed Byrne

Written by

Ed Byrne

Partner at Scaleworks. Growing SaaS businesses.

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