The Simplicity Challenge

Square Pegs

One of your biggest challenges as a leader is to take the complicated and make it simple.

There are a lot of fires to put out when you’re running a business. And it’s easy to run around and stamp out every new fire without stopping to survey the whole landscape. The reason is, the fires catch our attention immediately.

When you stop long enough to find out what’s causing the fire and what’s fueling it and perpetuating it, you have a real chance of stopping it. But if things are so complicated that you can’t see through all the trees, it’s a lot more difficult to see and solve the real problems.

Thinning Out The Forest

The more policies, procedures, processes, and nuances of each that you have, the more complicated things can get. And everytime you have a new situation, it’s easy to just add a new layer of policy, procedure or process to the pile.

But how many layers of new paint can you put on a door before it won’t close any more?

So the key to creating simple and effective solutions is to do a couple of things:

  • Think 50/50. Spend 50% of your effort in finding the right solution, and the other half in implementing it.
  • Hone what you have. Focus on tweaking and upgrading your present solutions rather than just adding more work to a previously simple process.

The Value Of Keeping It Simple

And we’re talking dollars here. And a lot of them. Here’s where you’re going to save money by keeping it simple:

  • Training. The simpler your business is, the easier it is to train and develop new people and move forward and grow.
  • Efficiency. Every layer of policy and procedure you add to a task slows it down. Streamlining your workflow means it takes less people and less time to perform a task. Big savings.
  • Quality. Every step you take out of a process chain is one less place where it might break or cause you a problem.
  • Problem solving. It’s a lot easier to find the missing piece in a 10 piece puzzle than it is a 1000 piece puzzle. Solving problems quickly means you can get back to business that much sooner.
  • Results. All of these savings from keeping it simple allow you to get the job done faster, cheaper and better than your competition can. That sparks repeat sales and it sparks great word-of-mouth advertising.

Stop and see the whole field where the fires are raging. Strip away the layers of old paint. Root through the sea of square pegs and find that one round one that fits perfectly.

With the right mindset you can leave every situation better than how you found it. Simpler. And more profitable.

That’s the challenge.

10 thoughts on “The Simplicity Challenge”

  1. This one really sounds like you followed me to work 🙂

    I run a shipping dock in a large grocery warehouse, and man, I have to put out “fires” constantly. And like you said, it’s easy to end up with more and more policies and procedures to have to follow. The higher ups there are apparently big believers in adding more and more little rules to try and prevent bad things from happening more than once. The fact is, it usually only gets more people in trouble when the situation rises again……..because they usually do sooner or later.

    That last paragraph really nails it. If your in a leadership position, you can’t afford to get too deep in the fire yourself. Someone has to keep an eye on the big picture, and utilize the people you have to put out fires as you direct them… least that’s been my experience.

  2. Hey Anthony,

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    When I was running a water bottling plant I had to deal with a lot of little fires. I like using the analogy of a bottling line which is a linear process … it’s one machine followed by another, then another, etc.

    It all works together, or it doesn’t work at all.

    Everything affects everything else. You have to look at the big picture and make sure that the little fix you apply on one thing doesn’t screw up everything else (which happens a lot with complicated systems).

  3. Thats a good post Shane. Over expecting my own capabilities, trying to be a real perfectionist are easily my worst enemies at times.

    The key to all this is to keep it simple, do your best and to hell with the rest, got to remember that you are not the only one to take the entire burden. Write out your priorities, don’t lose focus, do things one at a time and what have you got….positive results.

    You have too much to do?? No problems, that can be handled too. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

    Good reminders for me from this post mate.

    Take care and Cheers.

  4. That’s a good point, Robin…you can’t take the entire burden on yourself, regardless if you’re the one who’s been given the responsibility.

  5. Haha … I like that Robin; “How do you eat an elephant”

    That’s a post title if I ever heard one!

    What I’m really trying to get across here is, instead of building an elephant, build a nice sized roasted pig instead … everybody at the party gets plenty to eat, and it’s a lot easier than trying to get an elephant into the back yard and over the firepit.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. Why do so many people think that in order to appear intelligent or professional, they have to make things as complicated as possible?!?

    My business mantra is based on the KISS system – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

    – Martin Reed

  7. Hey Martin,

    KISS is the only way to go. But it’s also hard to do well. I think a lot of people add layers of complication as a quick fix but less is more. And it takes a little more thought and work to implement it.

    The payoff is a lot bigger though!

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