I believe that simplicity in organizations is viewed as unsophisticated. Surely, if we are working on large and complex problems, our strategy needs to be equally large and complex? Surely we need a large number of diagrams showing all the core components and relationships between them?
This perverse idea is that simplicity cannot possibly deal with modern-day problems. So then we need 100-slide PowerPoint, massive strategy documents. Burnout and stress indeed follow, but at least we deal with difficult problems effectively. That’s just the price we have to pay to tackle significant challenges.
I think just the opposite.
Taking a complex problem and providing simple solutions is a core skill set.
Simplicity is sophistication.
You’ve probably heard of Occam’s Razor. It’s the idea that when two competing theories make the same predictions, the simpler one is usually correct.
I’ve come up with a similar theory on organizational strategy.
I call it Manny’s Razor.
Forget about the size or complexity of the problem. The more important question is: How complex is the solution?
The simplest solution is usually the correct one.
When you have two competing theories on how to solve a problem, the simpler one is usually correct.
The reason is that for a strategy to work, it has to be communicated and executed. And this is not easy. Communication does scale well, and core messages get diluted and lost. The work being done does then not align with the strategy.
The simpler the solution, the more likely it will be communicated successfully and executed.
And this is why simplicity is sophistication.
It takes a lot of thought to devise a simple solution to a complex problem. It’s not easy to reduce something down to its essence.
This is why simplicity is a sign of intelligence, not a lack thereof.
So next time you’re working on a complex problem, don’t try to come up with a complex solution. Instead, embrace simplicity. It just might be the key to success.
I have been writing a large essay on BHAGs — Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And setting clear goals can be seen as equivalent to having a strategy, and there is no better example of Kennedy’s statement about the Apollo Programme in 1961:
This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.
This instantly created alignment on what would be the priority for the space program (and many other programs as well).
Most organizations today do not have such a clear and straightforward goal. This leads to confusion and conflict about the priorities and ultimately to stagnation.
The lesson is that if you want to achieve something big, you must set clear and simple goals and strategies.