Do You Make Things Too Complicated? Take the Razor to Them.

Last Updated Nov 29, 2010 4:08 PM EST

This time of year, we often hear people say "appreciate the simple things." They're usually not talking about business, but my holiday wish for you (after health and happiness) is to look at everything your business does and ask, "Is this as simple as it can be?" Or even, "Is this necessary at all?"

Other BNET writers and I have mentioned Occam's Razor before. It's the fourteenth-century equivalent of "K.I.S.S.," and it is a philosophy I believe in wholeheartedly. At its essence, it says that the more complicated something is, the more likely it is to be wrong. Or conversely, the simplest solution will usually be the best. This doesn't mean that there are not extremely complex things in life and business -- there's no simple way to launch a space shuttle -- it just means that keeping complexity to a bare minimum in any given situation is likely to yield the best result.

Information overload, the Web and new media, 24/7 communication and connectivity, and powerful (not to mention cheap or free) business tools invite over-complication like never before. Most of us fall into the trap without even knowing it. So, give yourself a gift this season and take an "Occam Inventory." Look at the way you and your business do things and see if you can take the Razor to them. Are you really keeping things as simple as they can/should be?

Here are five easy places to start (warning-reckless use of question marks ahead):
  • Meetings - Do you have too many? What do they actually accomplish? Does everyone really need to be there? Many studies and surveys have challenged the value of meetings. For most companies it's probably unrealistic to have none at all, but take a hard look at the quantity and quality of your meetings and see what they are really doing for you. My bet is that most businesses can have fewer people, meeting less often, for less time, and get more done.
  • Information - Many organizations bury themselves in reports, graphs, charts and other data. Obviously business is about information; facts and figures need to be measured and reviewed. But are you overdoing it? Are you really using every stack of printouts that's put on your desk, or are you gathering data as an end and not a means? Do you have analysis paralysis? I once worked with a guy who constantly asked me to print reports, some of them inches thick, which would invariably collect dust on the corner of his desk, untouched. One day I asked why he was asking for all of this stuff and not reading it. His answer was "in case the CEO asks me a question and I need an answer." Not sure if that qualifies as "complication," but at a minimum it was a complete waste of time and resources. Ask yourself if you really need all that data, or if you can simplify, and actually get much more done with much less. C'mon... even with a new cover sheet, you're probably not going to read that TPS report.
  • Bureaucracy - is your company wrapped in red tape? Do you have a form, procedure, rule and regulation for every little thing, and if so, are they all necessary? Really? Organizations often create work and paper-shuffling where it serves no real purpose. Whenever I see stacks of forms behind someone's desk and wonder what happens with them, I think of the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you hire, fire, buy or sell, of course there's unavoidable paperwork. But has your company gotten carried away? Are forms, procedures and rules making you efficient, or just bloated?
  • Media - It's so easy and so deliciously tempting. Your company can have a Facebook page, blog, Twitter page, YouTube channel, smartphone app, streaming video content, and all these cool icons on your Web site. But as I often say, just because you can doesn't mean you should. If you have a solid, well-executed online/media plan and a clear vision of how every element serves your business, go for it. But if you are like many companies, you're doing a lot of stuff just because others are... because it seems like you should. If you are dedicating resources to keeping up with the digital Joneses, is it doing anything for your business? Are you doing more than you need to? What has your Bebo page done for you lately?
  • Customer experience - Do you make your customers jump through hoops to do business with you? Is your voice mail system unnecessarily complicated and annoying? Web site overdone and/or impossible to navigate? Do you ask for too much information, especially information that you don't really need or won't really use? If you only pick one area of your business to Occamize, make it this one. Do not allow one iota of unnecessary complexity into any customer interaction or process.
In business, things tend to build inertia ("that's the way we've always done it") and we don't often put on the brakes to challenge them. But I guarantee that if you perform an Occam's Inventory honestly and without a personal or defensive agenda, you will find areas where you can simplify your business. Save time, money, paper. Make customers and employees happier and more productive. Do less and get more done.

Please share your thoughts, and have a happy, uncomplicated holiday season.

(Flickr image by freshwater2006)
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    Michael Hess is founder and CEO of Skooba Design. He is also a public speaker and advisor, obsessed with customer service, communication, and culture. Read the philosophies that make Michael tick here, and visit his website and new Facebook page for information on speaking engagements and more.

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