I’ve been thinking about this idea of simplicity in business for years now. Following this bouncing ball, right?
- Many people in your office want to tell you how busy they are
- In some ways, “being busy” is the cultural currency of the modern age
- The problem is: busy doesn’t mean the same thing as productive
- Organizations are ultimately judged on some degree of actual productivity, as are individuals
At the same time you’ve got this clash between simplicity in business and everyone wanting to be busy all the time (to showcase how relevant they are), you’ve got this other clash between “logic” (process!) and “emotion” (human beings!). We want to set up workplaces as logical, so we throw heaps of process at almost everything. Business process, though, tends to bury results. Why is that? Humans are emotional creatures, so they respond to emotional triggers — not always process-driven ones.
At this four-way stop of simplicity in business, the Temple of Busy, the need for process and humans wanting to cry when their boss is a wanker … could we find a strategic advantage?
Simplicity in business: Some research!
This is from Stanford University (vetted brand name) and combines work from the School of Business (money money money!) and the School of Engineering (process process process!). Here’s a video to help you “get” it:
At the most basic level, this is a study around product management at organizations. In terms of simplicity in business, there was kind of this Godilocks effect. What I mean is…
- Companies with too many rules tended to “hit a mark” — i.e. release a product — but it tended to be the wrong thing relative to what everyone wanted. Logically, you’d assume the process (too many rules) made it so they weren’t even solving the right problem.
- Companies with no real rules tended to basically get nothing done — no outcomes or deliverables. That’s not good, although I bet those companies did achieve a whole metric fuck ton of no-ROI deliverables.
- Companies in the middle — 4 or 5 simple rules — tended to achieve the most.
See? Goldilocks. Porridge? Just right? Etc.
So there’s a sweet spot for simplicity in business: 4 or 5 simple rules that guide process and protocol, but not 14 or 15 (overwhelming) and not 0 or 1 (everyone’s slacking off).
Simplicity in business: An individual-level advantage
I could write about 11 million words on this, but since that would bore most everyone who’s read this far, let’s not do that and instead condense the core ideas here.
A good deal of people define their self-worth via their job, which seems massively dangerous to me — jobs aren’t even guaranteed things even if you’re someone out there murdering targets every day, because companies don’t operate according to moral norms and don’t have any real incentive to start doing that either. There’s this whole idea that men have to define success through career because they can’t have babies. That might be bullshit and might not. I go back and forth on that myself, honestly.
What I don’t understand — never have, probably never will — is that “happiness” or “contentment” in life is ultimately tied to how you use time, not how you accrue money. If you believe that — i.e. if you think time is important — then a “successful” life would be coming home around 4:45pm, spending time with family/friends, and avoiding work e-mail for the evening. You’ll go back to work and deal with that stuff the next day.
I know a couple of people who view “success” in those terms, but I know about 22x more people who think “success” is working until 10pm, checking more e-mail, responding to those, and constantly telling everyone how busy you are.
That’s not ‘simplicity in business,’ but it is how many people approach, view, and contextualize ‘success in business.’ Until we solve that gap problem, there’s probably not going to be a lot of simplicity in business movements coming to an organization near you.
BTW: some people call what I’m describing above “Essentialism.” I kinda think that sounds like you’re living on twigs and leaves, so I use simplicity in business — but whatever floats your boat.
Simplicity in business: An organizational advantage
Won’t go too deep into this, but let’s be brutally honest: most people who work for you probably (a) aren’t that smart and (b) aren’t that innovative, and I’m not shitting on your team here — I’m just being real.
In a world where more people are heads-down, target-hitting drones than smart, innovative creators … well, you need a certain amount of rules to make sure those target-focused drones are solving the right problems. But see above, from Stanford. You can’t have too many rules, and you can’t have none. You need a place in the middle. A couple of simple rules, tied to basic goals, with understandable KPIs.
We have enough books to choke a horse about organizational development, and burn enough jet fuel miles to slick Donald Trump’s hair 72,181 times as we fly people around discussing leadership, but … in the course of all this, no one ever seems to stop and embrace simplicity in business as an advantage.
What say you? Simplicity in business possible, or do the various personalities and protocols in an office necessarily overwhelm it?