Keep It Simple

Last Updated Oct 6, 2011 7:59 PM EDT

Keep It SimpleMost people tend to complicate things. I don't know why. I'm a big fan of simple. Simple logic. Simple goals. Simple marketing. Simple management. Keep It Simple's been a key philosophy throughout my career.

Not that I'm a simple person, mind you. I'm not. But being a complicated person actually works against you. My mind, for example, is overly active; it always wants to be doing something. I have a tendency to be distracted. It takes energy to focus.

But when I do that - reject distraction, focus, keep things simple - I'm always rewarded with positive results.

When you come up with a simple solution to a complex problem, what you're really doing is creating order out of chaos. It takes energy to do that, you know? That's because the physical world always tends to higher levels of entropy.

Organisms and organizations alike actually have to fight the laws of physics - the second law of thermodynamics - to survive and thrive. Bet you didn't know that.

Occam's Razor says that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is the right one. Occam was a 14th-century Franciscan friar, a simple man. The principle has implications in virtually every field of science, not to mention philosophy, aesthetics, marketing, economics, and yes, management.

For example, if an employee is underperforming, most managers wouldn't think to just ask the guy what's going on. Nine times out of ten, you'll find answers if you ask and not if you don't. Simple.

Here are three examples of how simple wins and complicated loses:

1. Apple Underwhelms. Really?
Yesterday's headlines said Apple underwhelmed with its iPhone 4S rollout. Sure, folks were expecting a revolutionary leap to the iPhone 5, but what almost nobody seems to get is the importance of the Siri intelligent assistant.

For decades we've been waiting for computing interfaces to become intuitive and intelligent, so you can just talk to them and tell them what you want them to do and they'll do it.

It's ironic because Apple's primary innovation has always been technology that works so simply, elegantly, and seamlessly that you don't even notice it, unlike all the clunky, kludgy crap we were all used to before Apple's i-products changed everything.

Siri, which uses Nuance's advanced speech recognition technology, and Microsoft's Kinect, as well, are the beginning of a new age of technology where the complex becomes simple. Finally. And yet, everyone's trained to look for shiny new objects.

2. Complexity: a Chronic Culprit in Small Business
If you're a manager or a business owner and you've never watched the Food Network show Restaurant Impossible, you should. The first thing chef Robert Irvine does with all these screwed-up restaurants that are completely mismanaged and about to go under is this: He lists the five things he needs to do to turn things around. And that's what he does in 48 hours and with $10,000.

In almost every case that includes cutting a ginormous menu down to a small one with simple recipes, and then executing them flawlessly and consistently. Also simplifying the restaurant's theme and design and basic stuff like knowing what your top-selling items, food costs, and profit margins are.

It isn't rocket science. And yet, how many companies and small businesses fail because their managers and owners overcomplicate things, get distracted, and fail to focus on what's critical?

3. Why Are 10 Big Brands in Big Trouble? Ever Think to Ask?
Yesterday I wrote about 10 companies that are in big trouble - big names like Sony and Sprint. Most of them have been turnarounds for some time, but the solution is elusive. And yet, I bet that in most cases, if you simply asked some of the smart executives at the firm, they'll tell you what's not working and why.

I find that's the case with every company I consult for. If you just sit down with folks and ask a few leading questions, you quickly figure out what works and what doesn't, who's part of the solution and who's part of the problem, and all that.

Sure, that's just the beginning. Change is hard. But it starts with finding out what's really going on. Of course, companies do anonymous surveys about employee engagement and management effectiveness and all that. But do CEOs and board directors ever think to just ask? Sometimes, they do. But all-too-often, they don't. That would be too easy.

Last word: The message here is simple. That's it.
Follow Steve Tobak on Twitter or Facebook
Trademarks and logos belong to their respective owners

Comments

Market Data

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Market News

Stock Watchlist