2020 Hindsight Series: Stay Simple

We're continuing our series of 2020 hindsight; a look at lock down leadership lessons, I've learned over the past 12 months. One important factor in successfully navigating a crisis is the need for simplicity. I think there is a lesson for businesses and their leaders to keep it simple.  

There definitely seems to be something innate in us, that compels us to add complexity where it's not necessary. I think underlying this is the wrong assumption that complexity is a sign of competence. When I hear people being complex or giving long answers, it’s often used as a cover for incompetence or self-justification. In the many turnarounds I've been involved with, the solutions have always been very simple, even in the most complex environments. Complexity, bureaucracy and politics, all cloud the ability to execute a simple solution. US businessman Chris Sacca, shows us the contrast, when he said, Simplicity is hard to build, easy to use, and hard to charge for. Complexity is easy to build, hard to use, and easy to charge for. Therefore it’s understandable why we often opt for the complex solution, particularly in the consulting world.   

A lack of simplicity means people are busy but not effective, running around, looking intense and not achieving a great deal. Yet if we get this right, there is something inherently elegant in a simple solution. The excellence of simplicity leads to less stress, it allows people to be more focused and creates clarity.  

However, the irony of simplicity is that it takes a lot of effort to make it look effortless. I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have time. It takes effort to create simplicityBut when we do, the solution is often highly effective. With the turnarounds that I've led, and the many companies I help strategically, we cut through the complexity to a few key priorities. That allows a concentrated allocation of resources to effectively move the business forward. This has resulted in clarity and fast execution. Often expressed in a simple one-page plan that everybody can understand. There is no need for the 4Kg document, that becomes irrelevant in a very short period of time, and goes in somebody's bottom drawer, until it is reviewed 12 months later, where its failure is dissected ad nauseum. 

Have you ever wondered why a lion tamer uses a chair to control a lion, who could quite easily with one bat of its mighty poor, dispatch both chair and trainer? The answer is indecision. When a lion looks at the four legs of a chair ,it hesitates because it doesn't know which one to focus on. How true is that of our teams and our organisations. Potentially so powerful but distracted and focused on too many things.  

We can often get bogged down in distracting complexity, rather than executing with simplicity. 17 Century English Mathematician Isaac Newton, wisely said that, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” My 2020 hindsight is, I think he is right. If you want to be effective as a leader, stay simple.

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