Keep It Simple, NOT Stupid

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You’ve no doubt heard the acronym KISS – Keep it simple, stupid.

Being concise is valid.

Why do we want concise? I think we sometimes seek out this valid and elusive goal for the wrong reasons.

We hear things like: ‘Keep it to one page.’ Why?

Is it because attention spans are shrinking? Unfortunately they are.

Is it because we don’t have time? Unfortunately we don’t.

Those shouldn’t be the reasons.

We should strive to be concise because doing so requires all of our skill to think through the problem and streamline the explanation, getting to the point.

It’s much more difficult for me to provide a 20 minute speech than a one hour speech.

It’s more difficult because we can’t take the time to set things up. We need to jump to the understanding with an economy of words and still make the point.

Politics provides the most visible examples of trying to simplify very complex issues.

A simple phrase can galvanize a movement and keep focus.

“The economy, stupid.” — James Carville

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” — John F. Kennedy

Simple sometimes means breaking promises:

“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” — Herbert Hoover

“Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 – never.” — Jimmy Carter

“Read my lips, no new taxes.” — George H.W. Bush

 “The era of big government is over.” — Bill Clinton

Some things are too complex to ‘keep simple.’ Most things we deal with as leaders are layered with complexity and require deep analysis. Sometimes we need to take the time necessary to work through these problems and opportunities. Simplifying the problem won’t necessarily solve the problem.

For Personal Brilliance, we do a real life problem solving exercise in groups with large audiences. The exercise (using poker chips) allows the participants to work on actual problems while learning and applying the four catalysts of Personal Brilliance – Awareness, Curiosity, Focus, and Initiative.

It’s difficult and challenging.

Are people comfortable with the complexity? Do they have the endurance to get to the end of the exercise?

Here are two different audience comments from people in the same recent session:

“Very confusing. Instructor needs to provide more explanation as to goals and participation. Waste of time.”

“The group activity was the best I have observed and participated in. Great insights and knowledge gained. Very interesting and engaging.”

Which of these two people do you want performing important tasks to reach championship levels?

I’m OK with the process being complex and not catering to the lowest common denominator. Will everybody on the team be able to keep up? I want to know who can and can’t keep up. We want to make sure we don’t gloss over details. I want to see that people can think things through. Who will meet the challenge? That’s who belongs on the team. Oh, and by the way…real results too.

This is what we do in our Executive Leadership Focus process. You see, at a staff meeting we purposefully say as little about a particular bullet point as possible so we can move on to the next bullet point. And that’s the right thing to do. However, we also need a forum to go to a deeper and more detailed level.

Don’t sacrifice good thinking for simplification. Create space to go deeper.

To do this week: Identify one item that requires a time out to go deep. Take some time with it without the restriction of maintaining simplicity. At least at the beginning. Dig in. See what you find.

Please let me know how it’s going. Click the “comments” box below to participate in an on-going discussion via LinkedIn.

Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On February 22, 2017
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