Simplicity as Strategy

Simplicity as a Strategy

New strategic business values emerge over time.  In the 1980s, it was all about quality. In the 1990s, it was about cost cutting. By 2000, innovation had peeked its way through the clouds. What was once new has become the norm: quality and innovation are now widely accepted as common business practice. In fact, if either is not on your business radar, then you’re a laggard, and possibly in trouble. As we witness ever-increasing levels of business complexity, where a plethora of data and information prevails, a new set of values is emerging: the theme of “simplicity” is now pushing its way onto the corporate radar.  How do we make things simpler, for ourselves, for our customers, for our people? If you’re not easy to do business with, the customer will rapidly click somewhere else.

Simplicity is emerging as the next wave of strategic thinking.  Businesses and governments are preparing to make our lives easier.  Paperless offices used to be a pipe dream, but not so today. How can we harness technology to support simplicity? How can we use technology to reduce information overload rather than increase it?  Simplicity, just like quality, will eventually find a home, it will become embedded in other business processes. We need to give it full attention. The next wave is coming, and simplicity will be key to staying on your surfboard!


The Paperless Panacea

Before the dawn of the internet, companies were paper prolific and the idea of the paperless office was considered a radical innovation.  Heralded by Lars Kolind of Denmark’s Oticon as a prime business strategy, the concept that businesses could operate without paper seemed like a far-off dream.  Kolind, whose turnaround strategy was coined “Mission Impossible”, created a stand-up-only office on his  building’s top floor.  Employees would review their mail, magazines, etc and then hand it in to be scanned before venturing down to their desk.  Through the center of the building was a  transparent tube through which all things paper were shredded.  Radical.  At the time, it truly was.  

Today a “paperless” world is not only a reality, but an accessible option for all. Or is it? Two recent events have told me otherwise.  Renewing my mobile phone contract was a 1.5 hour process involving no fewer than 27 pieces of paper, (multiplied by two!)  including a copy of my driver licence.  It seems strange that despite having been a customer for over 20 years, they’re still not sure who I am.  Later, an attempt to open a new facility at what I considered to be a world-class bank, involved no fewer than 12 pieces of paper. Two transactions, 66 slices of tree!  Needless to say, these transactions are the company’s way of managing risk and for dealing with the new F word in finance – FICA!  Today, fortunately, there is an opportunity to leverage our advances in technology to support simplicity as a strategy.  Forewarned is forearmed.  


Information Overload

There is more content on YouTube today than the history of television ever produced. There are more books written and published in a year than you could read in several lifetimes.  There is more data, and more information, but perhaps less knowledge.  Are we really informed or are we over-informed?  For the most part, my clients cite “information overload” and “too many emails” as being big issues today.  Sometimes it creates acrimony in the corporate dialogue:“Why didn’t your reply to my mail?  I sent you that?  Find out for yourself.  Google it!” are all common conversations.  

What we lack are tools for how to deal with such vast amounts of information.  We need filters so that we can pay attention to what is relevant, rather than be distracted by the shiny and the new.  If there were an addict group for “Shiny Penny Syndrome”, I would have long since been a member.  On the one hand it’s marvelous: we have access to so much new, exciting information; learning is available to us all, quite literally at the swipe of a finger.  But is life really simpler, or is the weight of information a burden on our shoulders?  Does simplicity have a role to play in helping us convert data to information, and information to knowledge?


Simplicity as a Strategy

In short, simplicity is emerging as the next wave of strategic thinking.  Businesses and governments are preparing to make our lives easier.  Food manufacturers are reducing their brand SKUs to reduce choice, technology companies are introducing “ease of use” departments to ensure that users don’t have to figure out their complex models, and business engineers are using simplicity as a new way of re-engineering business processes.

Other simpler businesses – your competition – may be just a click away for your customer.  While it is good to ponder on the past, think forward to the future.  The next wave is coming, and simplicity will be key to staying on your surfboard.  Enjoy the ride.

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