In just the past few weeks, publications ranging from the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal have published major stories on simplicity — and in the case of the Times, it was a review of not one but two books on the subject, Simple and Simpler.

Even the new Pope is renowned for his simplicity, right down to his name.

Naturally, this new interest in simplicity caught our attention.

And it isn’t just in the sense of a Thoreauesque lifestyle change, or like a Williams-Sonoma “Agrarian” catalog, where a “simple” lifestyle can cost thousands of dollars. We’re talking actual business benefits, such as refraining from inundating consumers with choices. “We found that the single biggest driver of “stickiness” — customers’ likelihood of following through on a purchase, buying the product again, and recommending it — was, by far, ‘decision simplicity,’ the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently navigate their purchase options,” wrote Karen Freeman, Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird in the Harvard Business Review last spring.

“Smart firms make simplicity a goal in itself,” writes Mitchell Osak in the Financial Post. “For many enterprises of any size, increasing simplicity is the new black.” And that’s black, not ebony, onyx, charcoal, outer space, black bean, black olive, jet, or licorice.

Not to say this is easy. “Complexity is the coward’s way out,” write Alan Siegel and Irene Etzcorn, authors of Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, one of the books reviewed by the Times.. “But there is nothing simple about simplicity, and achieving it requires following three major principles: empathizing (by perceiving others’ needs and expectations), distilling (by reducing to its essence the substance of one’s offer) and clarifying (by making the offering easier to understand or use).” Siegel is also the CEO of Siegelvision, a brand-identity consultancy, and is the chairman emeritus of Siegel+Gale, a brand-strategy firm where Etzkorn is an executive director, and which publishes a blog on simplicity.

The computer industry is not immune to this focus on simplicity. “Complexity is slow, expensive and not secure,” writes Kim Nash in CIO in an article about how GE, among other companies, is focusing on simplicity.  “If systems are difficult to use, employees get flummoxed, wasting work time searching for functions or waiting for help. Multiply that lost time by thousands of employees, and entire companies slow down. When a new business opportunity or a chance to beat a competitor comes along, you can’t move fast enough or don’t have the funds to invest.”

Moreover, writes Ron Miller in CITEworld, the recent decrease in PC sales and the rise of smartphones could be due to the latter’s emphasis on small, simple apps that have just a few functions, compared with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink apps that may do everything — if you could just figure out how. (Though, as the Wall Street Journal points out, that adds its own complexity — 800,000 apps in Apple’s App Store alone.) “There’s been a fundamental shift in user expectations, bordering on a sense of entitlement — all driven by the simplicity of using little granular apps on mobile devices,” he writes.

We approve.

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