March 9, 2012

Striving to Be Simple-minded

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Da Vinci

Somewhere in the complexity of Chicago traffic today, I began to wonder when such a great term became a pejorative.

This term – which should be a positive – has so many negative connotations that I want you to suspend your disbelief at its current definition to walk with me for a moment.

What do our customers want from us?  The ability to say “that was simple.”

What do we want for ourselves every day?  A little more simplicity, a little bit of ease in getting the myriad tasks we have before us completed.

What do suppliers and vendors want?  A faster and less complex path to getting us the things we need.

So “simple” is a good thing.  A thing we should strive for.  To me, being simple-minded means that you fight against unnecessary complexity.  That you take processes and make them easier and more friendly to use.  That you relentlessly employ your “bullshit meter” when someone says something must be so difficult.  It’s a lie. Lots of people do lots of things to protect the status quo, their span of control or their understanding of the truth until proven wrong (and even well after that, especially if its political).  Don’t accept no until you see no other way forward.

I offer you a few ways to be more simple-minded:

  1. Take a process (preferably one you’ve documented), cross out two boxes – any two actually – and figure out how that process would exist without them.  Approvals and reviews very often are nice to have, not necessary.  If something almost always gets rubber-stamped through an approval, consider if it’s really adding value.
  2. Find two things that really delight your customers and find the shortest path to delivering them.  Don’t accept the words “no” or it can’t be done.  If it’s important to your customers, it’s worth making it simple for them to obtain.
  3. Look at your vendors and ask:  who is hard to work with?  Unless they are bringing you something your business can’t live without, replace them.  This is not saying get rid of the most expensive vendor.  If they’re simple to deal with and deliver value, you likely want to keep them.  If they make your staff happy and productive, they get to stay.  However, championing getting rid of the vendors who make your life harder, that’s being simple-minded.
  4. Consider your customer service procedures (including the ones that happen at retail locations, branches, call centers and in the field), ask what can make the process go faster, more accurately and more smoothly.  Get rid of anything that doesn’t surprise and delight the deliverer and the person receiving the messages or good you strive to send.
  5. In scheduling meetings, invite people who meet one or more of two criteria:
    1. KNOWERS: They have information critical to solving the problem
    2. DOERS: They are empowered to make the solution happen

Everyone else can read the notes and use their hour to more productive ends.  That includes the approvers, who basically only want the recap, which is better handled when it can be simply delivered.

An organization who moves toward simplicity – say in their product portfolio – is able to reduce complexity across their entire organization.  Less protocol to support.  Fewer pricing plans and arrangements.  Easier accounting.  Less documentation internal and external to the organization to create.  Less customer facing education (and potentially fewer resources) needed.  Less complexity means more time to focus on big real problems and unravel those.

Those of you who know me know that I am extremely fond of “the kid with a box” analogy.  It also fits here.  A kid with a box is creative, entertaining, self-driven and focused.  And if that’s not simple-minded, I am not sure I know what else is.

Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz aka @hermione1

– cjgw