The Mark Divine BLOG: Simple Is Not Easy

Simple is Not Easy

Once upon a time a benevolent ruler, interested in educating his subjects, sent his wise men into his realms to discover the meaning of life. They returned a year later with seventeen volumes of information. Thinking there must be a simpler truth, he ordered them to condense it to a single volume, which they did after much consternation and deliberation on what to cut. The King was impressed but pushed them to simplify further by condensing it to a paragraph, and then again to a single sentence. The work was considered impossible by the wise men, but with the incentive to keep their heads, they prevailed. The results did not impress the learned of the kingdom, who took pride in their ability to comprehend the unnecessarily complex. But the words were priceless to the “ordinary people.”

The late Steve Jobs is quoted as saying: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. When you start looking at a problem, it seems really simple—because you don’t understand its complexity. And your solutions are way too oversimplified, and they don’t work. Then you get into the problem and you see it’s really complicated. And you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s where most people stop, and the solutions tend to work for a while. But the really great person will keep going and find the key underlying principle of the problem and sort of come full circle with a beautiful, elegant solution that works. And that’s what we wanted to do with Mac.” (Wired Magazine, November 2011)

So, according to Jobs, simplicity is found on the other side of complexity. The wise men would not have been able to find that one sentence meaning of life had they not first unearthed the seventeen volumes. The work of finding simplicity on the other side of complexity requires trial and error, a distilling of essential truth from the mass of data, information and knowledge. Complex knowledge comes when data is collected, sorted and compiled into information, then analyzed and presented as knowledge. Knowledge must then be challenged, tested and stripped of all non-essential elements to get to simple. It is the work of the poet, the expert coder and the musician to find simplicity on the other side of complexity, to see the beauty and elegance in the center of clutter, and to not just resist the urge to add, but to induce a subtraction.

In a world of almost unlimited choice and diversity, it is easy to be enamored with complicated products, projects, and concepts presented to solve our many problems. But once in a while, a Steve Jobs comes along and reminds us that keeping things simple can bring us freedom. Some simple challenges for 2017:

• Seek the simpler plan
• Subtract rules and regulations; instead, lead with intent
• Answer email in less than three sentences
• Use simple tools that don’t need to be plugged in
• Eat simple foods, avoid complicated diets
• Simply smile, and resist the urge to fill space with irrelevance

Clearly simple is not easy. It takes discipline to constantly ask what else can go, what can we say no to, how can this be simplified? I often frustrate my team by asking, “does it pass the KISS test?” when presented with an offer or plan that makes my brain hurt. I want them to do more work, ask more questions, and seek the simplicity beyond their complexity, to find that one sentence solution.

Discipline, focus, concentration, and creativity are the deep skills of simplicity. The Unbeatable Mind training will cultivate these skills. Sitting in a quiet room, away from distraction to allow your mind to settle into a challenge is a good way to start. Then ask some probing questions, such as:

• How is this adding value?
• Why is this necessary?
• What can I eliminate?
• What would happen if I killed this part or idea?

Simplicity is a skill that can be practiced daily. Oh yeah, still wondering what that one sentence meaning of life was? So am I! Share your thoughts on what the one sentence was with me on Twitter.
–Mark Divine

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