In his book Simplicity, Edward de Bono, one of the World’s greatest experts on thinking, outlines his case for simplicity.
He believes that complexity is always failed simplicity.
Simplicity, he states, is not always the natural state, you have to make it happen. And that might require change.
Just because something has endured doesn’t mean it is the best way to do things now. There may be a better, simpler way.
The lazier a person is, the more likely they are to find the simpler solution. Henry Ford employed lazy people in his plant as they could find the most efficient manner of producing a car and the result was an efficient production line.
But unless simplicity is set as a priority, it will not be ‘built in’ to any solution.
There is an elegance in simplicity that is appealing and often cost effective. For example, software that is too comprehensive is too complex. Only a fraction of the functions of Microsoft Office are used by the majority of users and so lower cost, less comprehensive solutions, such as Google docs can thrive.
Recognising that complexity also generates waste, the Lean Six Sigma movement looks to remove all waste and only undertake processes that add value. These are often the most simple solution.
Edward de Bono has a passion for simplicity and as always, his research is comprehensive and his conclusions are well supported, resulting in 10 rules for simplicity.
His rules are:
- You need to put a high value on simplicity – Very few people do this. We look for simplicity only when the complexity to difficult to manage. If a task is within our skill level and not too taxing, we will not look too hard to make the process more simple, despite the value that simplicity can add.
- You must be determined to seek simplicity – The value of simplicity is something that you need to actively seek. We generally like simplicity when it costs us nothing or when it is free to implement. There are are however savings to be made in implementing simplicity.
- You need to understand the subject matter very well – You need to be very clear about what you are trying to do. You need to understand the values, processes and outcome involved. If you don’t understand the system fully, you may end up with a simplistic result rather than just being a simple solution.
- You need to design alternatives and possibilities – Design is critical here to find alternative methods to achieve which are both effective and simple.
- You need to challenge and discard existing elements – Challenge everything. Everything needs to justify its continual existence. Systems and operations have a natural tendency to grow complicated. if you can’t justify it being there, then shed it!
- You need to be prepared to start all over again – It can be very tempting to modify an existing structure rather than build from scratch. The more difficult and expensive the system, the less people want to scrap.
- You need to use concepts – Concepts are useful for simplifying complexity. They provide the first stage of setting the direction and purpose. Concepts are designed to be vague, however, after setting the direction, you must get specific to simplify the system.
- You may need to break things into smaller units – Complex systems work best when they are broken down into sub-systems. Smaller is inherently simpler.
- You need to be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity – Comprehensive can mean complex. Simplicity may require you not look for comprehensive solutions to ensure what you get is as simple as possible.
- You need to know for whose sake the simplicity is being designed – Users? Owners? Customers? Simplicity is a trade off. To make something simple for one stakeholder might make it more complex for another.
Consider these rules when you are crafting a solution or as part of a business process improvement project. Simplicity gives you an elegant and often friction free solution which sounds like something to aspire to.
Dare to Aspire