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When writing our core values, I became fixated on a concept that became the inspiration for the name BirdBrain.
Simplicity. It’s a beautiful and inspiring idea.
Just thinking about it takes me to a happy place. If only I’d known such an innocent concept would cause me so much angst in the years to follow.
Simplicity is a duplicitous beast. It brings clarity and enlightenment, but the road there will often lead you stranded in the ditch.
Some of the smartest minds have given great perspective to the concept of simplicity.
Here are a few of my favourites:
“Nature is pleased with simplicity. And Nature is no dummy,” Isaac Newton.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Clare Boothe Luce.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple,” Jack Karouac.
“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful,” John Maeda.
Simplicity should be simple, right? I’d like to say so, but I’ve found it’s quite the opposite. Reflecting on my experience, there are three lessons I’ve learned about simplicity.
Simplicity isn’t simple.
Finding a simple solution can be hard, regardless of the task at hand. Simplicity is common sense, but it often feels elusive and out of reach.
The simple solution usually needs more thinking and hard work than complexity. Fortunately, there are some tools that help. My favourite process is called ‘thoughtful reduction’.
The Art of Thoughtful Reduction.
Reduce or remove. In ‘The Laws of Simplicity,’ John Maeda explains it is the simplest way to achieve simplicity.
A great website homepage is simple, yet has an attractive aesthetic that draws you in. Inexperienced designers add design elements as a way of solving a problem. The result is the opposite – the design ends up looking busy and distracting.
Applying thoughtful reduction helps remove non-essential elements to arrive at a stripped back design. This approach requires a superior design aesthetic to avoid appearing stark and basic.
As a rule, people are hard wired for complexity. We seem to take every opportunity to complicate things.
How many meetings have you sat in where every item is discussed to the extent everyone leaves confused?
Keeping business meetings short and focussed is a constant challenge. I believe as a rule, meetings shouldn’t go for longer than 30 minutes. We actively keep internal BirdBrain meetings as short as possible.
Imagine a world where every meeting is over in the shortest possible time. Imagine all the essentials being succinctly discussed… AND with only those who actually need to be there! The impact on efficiency would be staggering.
Simplicity requires commitment.
Simplicity doesn’t just happen. The counterpart of simplicity is complexity, and its usually the path of least resistance. Anything left to develop without a ruthless commitment to simplicity will turn complex.
Take the example of a business process document. At BirdBrain, we have recently wrestled with clearly documenting our internal process. The goal of the document? To guide our services from branding, to web development and digital marketing in a way that is simple.
Watching it take shape has, at times, been painful. Our broad range of services feels complex. It is easy for our process document to mirror this complexity.
The challenge has been to break this thinking and bring simplicity to the process. For the document to inspire, clarify and empower, there must be relentless commitment to simplicity.
People prefer simplicity.
True simplicity inspires and can even improve our lives. People hate wasting brainpower processing unnecessarily complex choices. We will always be drawn to genuine simplicity.
I feel for PC users making a laptop purchasing decision from a brand such as Hewlett Packard. The range includes vague model names such as “AC658TX”, “AW009AX”, “AS050TU”, “V001TU”. Confusing!
Compare this to Apple’s model of simplicity with just three laptop models. The MacBook (elegant, stylish and ultra-compact). The MacBook Pro (power and performance) and the MacBook Air (compact and low cost).
Apple have used memorable names and clear product delineation. All a buyer needs to do is choose which of the three categories fits their needs. Then select from the remaining options, process, colour, storage etc.
Meanwhile, the HP buyer is left confused. There are dozens of options with vague differences. Business or personal use? Heavy or light? Powerful or not? High resolution screen? The decisions are distracting and ineffective.
Achieving simplicity isn’t a decision, it’s a skill and a discipline. While making it part of your business DNA is an ongoing challenge, the benefits are worth it.