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Sunday, 20 November 2016

Life Becoming Too Complicated? Then Clarify, Simplify and Focus!

Ask anyone in business these days if running a business and indeed their life is becoming more or less complex and the answer is evident. 

Whatever we are doing there is the inevitable distraction of the email pinging at us that we have to read instantly or deciding to look for something on Google and being then distracted by something else.

It all adds to the complexity of modern living, the very modern living we were told that would be much simpler because of the advent of technology.

Not true, of course.  Modern technology has become both a blessing and curse.  Do we really need any more complexity in our businesses and our lives?

I came across a nice little epigram recently that read,

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

This has been variously attributed to Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci and I must confess the style seems rather more Jobs than Leonardo.

Business is essentially a simple exercise.  We buy something or we make something, add a bit on to the cost and then sell it.  In the end we are all traders and that is a simple way of defining business.

However and understandably there is more to it than that.  Unfortunately we add on a very thick layer of complexity that gets in the way of doing simple straightforward things. Quite frankly that generate costs as well as slowing down the whole process.

I once asked a new member of my Vistage CEO peer group whether he had a to-do list and he said that he did and showed it to me.  There were 72 items on it.  If he had complied with his own strictures on what he needed to do he wouldn’t have had time to do anything else.

More importantly how many of us have a “stop doing” list?

It is a matter of focus on the things in the business that really matter and that demand a strong will in order to ensure priorities are set and followed.

If we are not careful the definition and setting of priorities can be made complex.  We need to work on the premise that a priority has to be or lead to a decision that is truly significant for the business and its people.

Moreover, like the infamous “to-do” list, the number of priorities at any one time should be severely restricted.  Probably no more than four at a time is about right.

In a previous existence I worked in a large engineering company that had a very simple and extremely effective method of dealing with priorities.

When an order came in it was processed and then passed to production.  They had a number, no more than about 10, of red folders that indicated urgency and priority for that particular order.  The sales department could request a red folder but if none were available then the order was processed normally.

It was a very simple system and it worked brilliantly because everyone understood it and didn’t divert from it.

In terms of decision making also our ability to generate vast amounts of data from so many sources can get in the way of defining the real issue. 

We need the ability to focus on what really matters and to accept that we can never have enough evidence. Knowing when to stop analysing and start taking action is the mark of the great leader.  Yes, there is always a modicum of risk involved but it can usually be mitigated in some way.

Astronomer Johannes Keppler said that nature loves simplicity and unity.  A good summery is to clarify the position, simplify it as much as possible and then focus on what action to take.

There are many politicians never mid business leaders who would benefit from that philosophy.

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