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Simplicity at Work

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Whatever you are trying to do at work, keeping it simple will make it easier for you to get the support you need. (This is a guest post by Ruth Tearle of Change Designs)

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.” – Walt Whitman

As a mentor, the most common question I get asked is: How do I get leaders to trust and support me?

George was head of talent management in a large corporation. He asked me how he should put together a strategy that would be acceptable to the executive team of his organization. I suggested that top management don’t appreciate models or jargon – and that the higher up you go, the more important it is to simplify what you do. George’s eyes lit up. He got quite animated as he exclaimed: “I remember a presentation one of my staff gave to top management. She had excellent PowerPoint slides. But the managers were lost. They were fidgeting and getting quite irritated. Then I explained it simply and they loved it! I can’t believe that making it simpler makes it more powerful.”

Leaders get irritated by unnecessary complexity. Yet many of us think we need to make things complex to impress them.

Business is simple. We make it complicated.

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ― Confucius

What we do at work is actually simple.

  • Business is simple. It is about producing or delivering something that your customers value – and in doing so, spending less than you earn.
  • Strategy is simple. It’s about knowing what your customers are likely to value in the future, and what you can offer them that will get them to buy from you rather than from a competitor.
  • Change management is simple. It is about helping people to achieve a goal – in a way that is exciting and rewarding to them.

3 reasons why we make things more complicated than they are.

1. It makes us feel important.

Or, rather, let us be more simple and less vain.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Many of us like complicated models, theories, and complex jargon because by showing off how complex our work is, we feel we have mastered something. WE feel important.

A few weeks ago, I needed to print 50 copies of a document. I decided to get it done at a professional print shop. Before leaving, I quickly printed a copy on my home printer. Instead of simply inserting my flash drive into his computer and pressing print, the owner of the print shop spent 30 minutes grumbling about how complex my job was. The file was large. I should have saved the images in a bitmap format rather than saving the whole file as a pdf. He would have to manipulate all the images for me – and this was a complex job. I should have hired a designer to do this for me. He would have to make a big effort to do something special for me, in order to print my job within my deadline of a few days.

I kept wondering how if I had managed to print the job in a few seconds on my own computer – why it would take days to print the same job on more sophisticated equipment. I found myself getting more and more irritated. I began to distrust that this printer could get the job done at all. I took the job to another printer, who took 10 minutes to do the job.

2. We don’t trust simple things that just work.

Many of us worry that people won’t value what we have to offer, if it seems too simple.

For example, how much money do you think you could make from a new diet called the “Less is more” diet that suggest you “Eat less – healthy food and exercise more. Would you pay large amounts of money for this? Would you follow this proven wisdom? Ask yourself, what prevents you from following this diet rather than the many other more complicated diets on the market?

Many of us talk about how we want “skills transfer” and “empowerment” in our organizations. But would you hire an expensive consultant who showed you how easy it was to do the job yourself? Or would you prefer them to explain a complex model to you that proves you need them?

3. Complicated words are easier than simple actions.

Knowing is often easier than doing.

We often prefer to read or talk about something, than to take action.

When my physio therapist diagnosed the cause of my injured neck, as being a week core, I knew it was time to face something I’ve always avoided. Tummy exercises. The exercise she made me do was difficult. First I had to find the right muscle in my stomach and feel it. Then I had to concentrate on moving that muscle only, breathing correctly, and not arching or straightening my back. All this effort, just to find a muscle, let alone exercise it!

Back home, I tried the exercise again. It was difficult. It seemed like an inordinate amount of effort for just one simple exercise. After struggling for a few minutes, I went to my book case and spotted a book on Pilates. Reading it through felt good. As I ended the book I felt satisfied and smug. I had done it. I told myself.

An imaginary voice whispered from my right shoulder. “No you haven’t done anything. All you’ve done is read a book. I dare you get down on the floor and do even one of the 60 exercises in the book.”

“But I’ve read the book.” I said to myself. ” I know how to do it. I can even tell others the core principles of pilates – its benefits, how to do each exercise, what to watch out for, how to combine it with diet…”

But the irritating voice answered: “But you haven’t done anything. You can’t get a strong core just from knowing or talking. You have to do it, experience it, feel it.”

“But it’s so hard. It takes so long to do even one exercise.” I grumbled. “And I’m not sure I’m even doing it right.”

The voice answered. “Doing it – even a micro step is better than talking about it or reading about it.”

What we going on inside my head? I can’t believe how close I’d come to fooling myself into believing that I was exercising when all I was doing was reading about exercising. How could a reasonably intelligent person confuse knowing with doing? And yet, this is something we all do at work. We talk a lot about strategies or changes without taking any action. Then we wonder why we struggle with implementation.

Is it possible for us to do our jobs simply?

As leaders, coaches, and professionals, could we do our jobs without complexity?

Imagine what we could achieve  if we focused on helping others to achieve.

Imagine if instead of defining terms or explaining the meanings of words or models, we simply showed the way. If instead of intimidating people, we showed them how easy it is for them to succeed. If instead of trying to look important ourselves, we focused on helping others to do, achieve and feel confident.

Where others try to complicate things, I try to make things simple. Ruth Tearle

As leaders, coaches and consultants our role is to help others act like winners – not show off how important we are. Our most important leadership task is to helping others to succeed in a way that builds their confidence. The key to doing this is to make things simple for them.

Ruth Tearle is an international strategy and change management consultant and author.  Visit the Change Designs website for more articles, practical tools and motivation.

Author: Colette Symanowitz

Director of FraudCracker. Passionate about entrepreneurship, personal branding and networking. I also tweet under @FraudCracker

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