Less is more, or so it’s said. In many ways I agree with this statement. I recently downloaded a new app that requires me to rewrite sentences and remove words that are either redundant or non-productive. This process is causing me to think about the words I use when writing and try to be more concise as I write. I’ve only had it for a few days so don’t expect any quick miracles, but it is already causing me to slow down and choose words carefully. There are many great organizations who take the less is more principle to heart and merge it with the ‘keep it simple’ philosophy.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit the executive briefing center at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The director of the executive briefing center talked about how simplicity is at the core of what Apple tries to do. As I listened, I thought about how brilliantly the concept was applied at Apple and wondered how focusing on simplicity could lead to a great culture.
There were a few other principles discussed during the executive briefing visit, but simplicity was the one that struck me the most. Several years ago, Apple had 35 or more product lines; each product line had its own profit and loss statement for which each individual team was responsible. There is no mistake that when Apple reduced the number of product lines from over 35 to under 10 and removed all departmental profit and loss statement responsibilities, it exploded from both a market penetration and revenue perspective. Eventually, what became more important to Apple is what they said no to versus what they said yes to. This is not the first time any of us have heard of this. Chris and I have mentioned it on this blog many times, but what I had not heard before is that saying no is one of the primary contributing factors to Apple’s success. Making things simple and elegant and focusing on core products are two of the principles that have catapulted Apple to historic market levels.
How can these principles be applied to your culture in the workplace? As I considered this, I came up with a couple things. Just today we were having our departmental project review meeting and, like many of you, our list is way longer than we can do. One thing we considered as we discussed this was to not put a big list in front of anyone. As the leadership group, we would essentially hide the big list and put out in front of people only what we could afford to focus on right now. This would result in us saying no to somethings, at least for now, to properly focus on what is in front of us. Of course we wouldn’t really “hide” this list, but we can direct work efforts.
The other principle to focus on is simplicity. Believe it or not, it is much quicker to make a problem complex than to take the time and think it through to the point of simplicity. It is difficult to do that when you see an exhaustive list in front of you every day. Finding a way to say no, even if it is just masking a list, seems like a good idea.
What I am still struggling with, and I am not alone here, is how to create a culture of simplicity. How do you lead a team to think in terms of simple? Apple obviously has this figured out, but we do not yet. My world of healthcare IT is complex and riddled with government regulation and software applications from several different vendors whose primary focus is not necessarily how to play well with other vendors. We end up with a hodge-podge of systems tied together with bubble gum; well, at least it seems that way. Simplicity would be all systems neatly tied together so the critical information is delivered succinctly exactly when it is needed. Maybe that is a good start for us, defining simplicity. Next would be saying no to the systems that either don’t fit into that definition or don’t lead us to that definition.
Apple will set another record this year with revenue, probably north of $200 billion. They keep their product line manageable and their team focused. They are also building a beautiful new campus; apparently they did not say no to that project as the pressures of growth force them out of their existing humble mansion of a corporate office.
Defining simplicity for your team may just be the exact thing that is needed to allow you to focus your efforts and help you say a healthy ‘no’ to items and projects that on the surface sound promising, but could lead to increased complexity and lack of focus. They key is to be intentional about it and take the necessary time to create a culture of simplicity in a world of growing complexity.