Why promoting simplicity is important

I read an anecdote about Steve Jobs recently in The Entrepreneur here, which told about a bunch of smart designers from Apple who were working on the now defunct iDVD application that allowed users to transfer their digital content from their computer to a DVD with minimal steps, bypassing earlier methods that actually has a 1000-page user manual. Expecting being praised by Jobs, the team completed their presentation. To their disbelief, Jobs walked up to the board and drew a rectangle and said that it’s a window where you drag and drop your video and press BURN. Simple. Jobs was an out and out simplistic person. But simplicity, for him, did not mean mediocrity but ease of living in the best possible way. That is why almost all Apple products have bare minimum buttons and controls but still manage to outperform competition.

In today’s world, simplicity is the key to success. Complexity may have been the hallmark of Victorian fashion and literature, food and traditions, but it cannot be so in today’s business world. The acronym KISS was very popular some years ago, that just spelled Keep It Simple Silly! We love to complicate things and also love something that is complex, simply because dealing with complexity gives us a sense of high that comes with achievement. But complexity is time-consuming and robs one of efficiency.

Too many levels for a recruit to report to, too many steps in a tax filing system, too many permissions before you start a business or too many layers to a person’s personality before you understand him, all make things difficult and elusive.

Long ago, I had a boss who loved to complicate things. He made it difficult for people to understand what he’s trying to say. More often, we would find ourselves thinking, what is he trying to tell me? Why doesn’t he just come to the point? So much of beating around the bush would happens before the actual point would finally and painfully come out. A lot of time would be wasted in meetings unnecessarily.

Simplicity is a virtue that is long cherished. Ancient philosophies like Zen, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Stoicism are all based on leading a simple, uncomplicated life. There are many ways by which one can instill a sense of simplicity in one’s life.

  1. Get clarity: Being clear about the realities of life helps to gain a proper perspective. Similarly, being clear of what we expect from others also puts them at ease and saves a lot of time and efforts on part of the people whom we deal with. That includes even our close friends and family.
  2. Manage time effectively: We all have 24 hours at our disposal. While some struggle to fit in a few key tasks through the day, some others manage to accomplish several big and small works and tasks in much less time. That is because they simplify things, ask the right questions, get clarifications and are clear in their communication. They also manage time wisely through planning and preparation.
  3. Stick to the point: When you’re addressing your team, delivering a speech, writing a project report or a proposal, making an ad or simply communicating with someone, stick to the point. People have little patience when it comes to guessing and probing, thinking and assuming what you actually want to say. They would rather avoid you, get distracted or move on.
  4. Understand how people want simple solutions: As a marketing person or product designer, look around for what troubles people. A form that you need to fill, a gadget that you use, a user interface that needs to be designed, people love simple things. As much as you would like to shine about creating fancy things, keep in mind that when something is really simple, it gets used better. Find simple solutions to people’s problems and your chances of success are much higher.
  5. Being simple is being focused: Yes because you cut out on the unwanted crap and focus on what needs to be done and accomplished, with no frills and fancies around it. That way your attention is focused only on what’s important.
  6. Simplicity in everyday life: Be it your attire, your communication, your website, letter writing, travel plans and also events, being simple is appreciated by all. Be simple in your living and also in your food choices. One would create spectacular dishes everyday by processing and decorating dishes with ingredients, but a simple wholesome nutritious meal is all one needs to stay healthy. Simple home designs Your events, when simple, do not cut a sorry figure at all. The wise understand that being simple is the way to be. The unwise can anyway never be convinced. So why bother!
  7. Choose vacations wisely: Take your kids to heritage places around you, to forests and parks, valleys of flowers nearby and museums, rather than exotic locales in faraway countries. That way, you also reduce your carbon footprint.
  8. Promote simplicity at workplace: Set an example. Keep meetings simple. Use simple stationery and have simple menus for events. That offloads a lot of unwanted stress from the minds of people.
  9. Don’t entertain complexity from others: It’s ok to interrupt someone who is waxing eloquent about something and encourage him to come to the point quickly. There’s a false perception that when you use jargon and heavy language, put lots of charts and figures, fancy presentations and animations, then the audience is impressed by your intelligence. People can see through the show. Intelligence is not deliberate complication but in being precise and articulate. In short, brevity and simplicity are the hallmark of wit.

If you look at people who have made a mark in the history of the world, be it Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Bill gates, Steve Jobs , Ratan Tata or Narayan Murty, one thing that stands out is their simplicity, not just in the way they appeared but also in the way they thought, behaved and acted. That is why these people could lead meaningful lives because there was no scope for unwanted complexities.

Here’s a trivia for you. Have you noticed the tag line of this website? You read it right. It is ‘Aiming Excellence With Simplicity’.

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