Three Tips for Keeping Your Management Style Elegantly Simple

Last Updated Aug 14, 2009 1:08 AM EDT

"The goal of elegance is to maximize effect with minimum means," writes Matthew E. May in the article "Elegance By Design: The Art of Less," featured in the latest issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review. This seems like something a painter or dress designer should keep in mind, but how, exactly, does this apply to a manager?

May states that everything elegant is simple (though not everything simple is elegant) and that one of the best ways to keep both customers and employees happy is by getting rid of the clutter that keeps you from achieving elegance.

His advice:

  • 1. Stick with simple rules: "The most desirable order might best be achieved not by demanding compliance to an exhaustive set of centrally mandated, onerously rigid regulations, but from one or two vital agreements ... often found only at the core value level," May writes. As an example, he discusses a GM plant plagued by absenteeism, even after draconian rules were put in place. Toyota then took over the plant and gave the workers two simple rules to follow: respect people and show continuous improvement. According to May, "Absenteeism dropped dramatically. Quality and productivity rose to record highs."
  • 2. Limit information: In advertising and marketing efforts, "the power of suggestion is often stronger than that of full disclosure," says May. People are naturally curious, so pique their interest by making them wonder. May cites the months leading up to Apple's first iPhone launch as an example of when telling customers less paid off in a big way.
  • 3. Figure out what you can let go: May advises managers to ask themselves, "What would my customers love for me to eliminate or reduce or stop adding? What would my most highly valued people love for me to stop doing?" May points again to Toyota, who found success with its Scion brand by reducing the number of standard features so customers could personalize their cars.
Do you believe that less is more? When has reduction led you to a particularly elegant solution?

Neon sign image courtesy of Flickr user sflovestory, CC 2.0

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.