Leadership and Simplicity

by Mike Myatt

Leadership and SimplicityOne of the most effective ways to order your world is to simplify everything you encounter. However the problem for many is keeping it simple often becomes very difficult when our basic human nature is to over-complicate everything we touch.

In thinking about the people I respect the most, to the one, they possess the uncanny ability to take the most complicated of issues and simplify them. You will find that the best leaders, communicators, teachers, innovators, etc., have a true knack for taking extremely complex, dense, or intricate content and making it engaging and easy to understand. In fact, it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said: “simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” In today’s post I’ll take a look at the often overlooked benefits of keeping it simple…

While simplicity may have become a lost art, understanding the importance of simplicity is nonetheless critical to your success. Consider all the presentations/meetings you’ve attended in the last few weeks; was it the people who were able to articulate their positions in a simple and straight forward fashion, or the individuals that made things complex and tedious that got traction with their ideas? It has been my experience that the more complicated, difficult, or convoluted an explanation is, that one or both of the following issues are at play: 1) the person speaking is a horrible communicator, or; 2) the person speaking really doesn’t possess a true command of their subject matter. It is one thing to toss around the latest buzz-words or to have the most complex flow chart, but it is quite another thing to actually possess such a deep and thorough understanding of your topic that you can make even the most complex issues easy to understand.

It is almost as if business people have come to believe that complexity is synonymous with sophistication and savvy. It has been my experience that the only things that “complexity” is synonymous with are increased costs and failed implementations. There is an old saying in the software development world that states “usability drives adoptability” which tends to lend support to my observations. Those of you that know me have come to understand that I prefer to cut to the chase and get to the root of an issue as quickly as possible – this requires the ability to simplify, not complicate matters. Complexity is precisely what plagues many businesses. You don’t solve complicated matters by adding to the complexity. The most effective way to deal with complexity is to strip it away by addressing it with simplicity.

The truth is that simplifying something doesn’t make it a trite or incomplete endeavor. Rather simplification makes for a more productive and efficient effort that is often more savvy than other more complex alternatives. Another benefit of simplicity is that it serves as a key driver of focus, which enables greater efficiency, productivity, and better overall performance. Keeping things simple allows you to focus on one thing at a time without the distractions that complexity breeds by its nature alone. I would suggest that you break down every key area of your business (operations, administration, marketing, branding, sales, finance, IT, etc.) and attempt to simplify your processes, initiatives, and offerings.

As a C-level executive you must focus on simplifying your day in order to maximize your effectiveness. By simplifying everything from the information and reports you view, to your communications protocol, to your agenda, to your decisioning structure, you will be better able to operate in today’s unnecessarily complex world. I’ll leave you with this quote from Longfellow: “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“, and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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  1. Great sentiment in your article and made me think that if something is genuinely complex, then attempting to simplify it, could be dangerous?

    Complexity arises from the interconnectedness of elements, reducing the connections or the number of elements, changes it and removes things from the scanning range. That means the simplification is for convenience, a platitude that is no longer an accurate representation of the real world. Elements outside your simplification create surprise and further destabilise the world view. Human’s don’t overcomplicate, the world is much more complex than we could ever understand. What people do (social psychology of organisation, Weick) is to create vestiges of order. Order is predicatable and reliable and therefore simpler. In attempting to simplify the complex natural ecological world, we create forms of temporary order that compete with the natural flow, trying to hold it all back. Fighting against evolution or innovation which always win, is what creates the overcomplicatedness (lots of order). I think that what you refer to in your lovely article as inspiring people, who can simplify complicatedness, is in fact a technique, called Distillation.

    Simplification is a deductive process of reducing a system to it’s component parts in order to understand it. Whereas, distillation is more abductive, the result of working through and with the complexity, to describe the essence of the whole. Simplifying a person into Anatomy doesn’t explain the soul, or the mind, (which depending on your beliefs) is a result of the whole, being far more than a description of it’s parts, albeit with considerably less words.

    As Mark Twain put it a while ago – “It’s not what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so!”

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