Pursue Simplicity

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.


How would you simplify this paragraph?

This article is about identifying and removing superfluous, extraneous activities and information to get to the core essence of things so that end-users are enabled to practice simplicity in their endeavours and pursuits.

Here’s how I’d do it:

This article is about simplicity.

How much effort did it take for you to work out what that first paragraph was actually saying? How about the second?

Being complicated comes at a cost. When we over-complicate things, we tax our brains. Its limited supply of energy gets used up on trying to make sense of stuff when it could be more productively used in other ways. 

Complicated shows up everywhere. Last weekend I went to do an online grocery shop through the website of one of the major New Zealand supermarket chains. It took me three tries to work out how to get to the online shopping page. Then once I’d completed my order, I had to scroll and search through a bunch of options to confirm that my order was actually confirmed. I ended up assuming it was. Then I turned up at the supermarket the next day to find that the order hadn’t been received. 

Aaaagh! A good example of burning energy in the wrong way!

As I wrote about recently, leaders are dealers in energy. We want to ensure that our people are using their energy to do good work in the best way possible. Which means we need to pursue simplicity every day.

Here are three practices to help you develop your pursuit of simplicity: 

Practice simplicity of language

Language is simply a way of representing an idea. We use language to transmit and develop ideas. The less energy we need to use on interpreting that idea, the more energy we can devote to building on it, and acting on it. The simple idea? Less is more. How can you use less words, paragraphs or bullet points to convey your idea? Hint: ask yourself how a picture, or a metaphor, could make the point instead.

Practice simplicity of design

Humans, by nature, tend to be additive. We add more stuff rather than take stuff away. 

Here’s an example of two phone designs:

One’s designed with an additive approach. The other designers took a subtractive approach. Which is easier to use?

Practice simplicity of design by asking a few simple questions:

  1. What’s the outcome we actually want here?
  2. What’s essential to create that outcome?
  3. For anything else, what’s the cost of adding that in?

Practice simplicity of systems

Director, videographer and good mate Cam Fink shared a profound idea on LinkedIn recently: the best experiences have the least friction. I like that. It reminded me of how I’ve deliberately set up systems in my life to remove friction. We all do it - automatic payments, templates to help me write faster, having three sets of glasses so I don’t need to remember where they are: one for my work bag, one in the living room and one by my bed. 

Another, more extreme example: As you might know, I go back to Western Australia a couple of times a year for a windsurfing and surfing pilgrimage. For years I’ve lugged 40kg of gear through airports and spent heaps of extra time waiting for it to come out on the oversized luggage belt. Last year I decided I was completely over it. Now I have a full set of gear in both countries. Indulgent? Maybe? Does it remove friction and improve my experience? Definitely.

Author Tim Ferriss uses a great question which I’ll paraphrase here: what’s the one decision now that will remove a thousand other decisions down the line? The answer to that is usually the decision to put a system in place.

As Steve Jobs said “Simplicity can be harder than complex.” Yet if you want to sustain energy, and good outcomes, over the long term, it’s essential.

Pursue simplicity.

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