The Quest for Simplicity

On May 10th, I had the privilege of co-hosting and co-sponsoring the Coral Gables, FL venue of the 2013 Chick-fil-A Leadercast. Approximately, seventy people had the opportunity to listen to John Maxwell, Jack Welch, and Condoleezza Rice, among other well-known leadership experts and practitioners. The motto of this event was Simply Lead. As it turns out, simplicity was one of the major topics the speakers explored in their presentations, shedding light on this not-so-simple subject.

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As an economist, management consultant, and business owner, I have faced and resolved the challenge of achieving simplicity many times. In fact, the first chapter of my book, The Seventh Distinction: The Path to Personal Mastery, Leadership & Peak Performance, is titled Complication vs. Complexity: The Rise of Simplicity. This subject is very important to me personally and professionally.

The Simplicity Equation

During his exposition at the 2013 Chick-fil-A Leadercast, John Maxwell presented the following equation for simplicity:

Complexity = Slow and Deep

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Simplism = Fast and Shallow

Simplicity = Fast and Deep

The foregoing equation summarizes in a masterful way why achieving simplicity is so challenging and, at the same time, so necessary. When we address complexity the wrong way by quickly brushing over its surface and ignoring its depth, we develop a shallow understanding of the situation at hand. Such shallow understanding usually makes us believe we can move faster than we really can. In this case, though, we would be simplistic, which most often slows down our progress in achieving our goals.

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However, if we address complexity the right way by investing the necessary time to gradually master its depth, we will achieve simplicity. In so doing, we develop the leverage necessary to move faster in the long term.

How to Achieve Simplicity

The best way to achieve simplicity is, in my experience, by applying systems thinking. “Systems thinking is the capacity to break down reality into its fundamental components and describe the patterns of interaction among said components. This approach allows for a balanced understanding of the whole and its comprising parts” (Romero, 2012).

By applying systems thinking to any given problem, we can identify those few variables that have the most influence. Said variables are called leverage factors, and they are the gateway to simplicity. However, if misidentified or mismanaged, the leverage factors become the cause of unwanted complications.

“Since complexity cannot be mastered before we actually immerse ourselves in it, complications are, by definition, inevitable. They will arise as part of the learning process. Therefore, complications are indeed the source of simplicity—it is by spotting and removing the former that we achieve the latter. In this regard, by ignoring complications, simplicity will never come about. We need the yin to get the yang. It is the nature of the world in which we live.” (Romero, 2012).

What do you think?

Now it’s your turn. What challenges have you faced when pursuing simplicity? Why do you think some people and organizations have such a hard time acknowledging the challenges of complexity and devoting the necessary effort, time, and resources to mastering it?