Keeping it Simple Without Becoming Simplistic

We live in a world where the trend is to boil things down to a simple formula often leads to boiling them over. We are told

 Give me your elevator pitch

 Keep it simple stupid

 What’s the bottom line?

Now there is nothing wrong with conciseness and clarity but some things cannot always be reduced to one liners. Think how ridiculous the following sound when you dig deeper.

 Spirituality made simple

How to find love in three easy steps

A gourmet meal in a few minutes

Corporate strategy made easy.

The problem is that in the quest for the simple we become simplistic which means ignoring or overriding more complex situations.  As a result

1.  We don’t get to root causes. We live in such an action oriented society that we drive for solutions before we fully know the causes of a situation. I was in a seminar where a renowned business professor presented a complex problem to the class. He then instructed the participants to ask “Why, why, why?” for two whole days. It drove the action oriented people nuts. But the ultimate solution they reached was both comprehensive as well as elegant and accurate.

2.  We take short cuts and get lost. The quick solution is not always best one especially for complex problems. Now having a simple framework or roadmap to solve problems may be helpful. For instance, the roadmap for leading change by John Kotter helps one work through thorny change initiatives. However it is not an excuse to avoid wrestling with difficult issues. We do so at the peril of getting lost.

3.  We neglect to look at the big picture. A lot of corporate practice is focused on meeting quarterly numbers and goals. And so decisions become reactive rather than responsive. For instance there have been times that corporate leaders have laid people off to reduce costs only to hire some of them back at a later stage because the organization needs their expertise again.

4.  We block out the wisdom of the unconscious mind. The emphasis on quick thinking and action does not take into account that some of the most creative solutions require us to slow down. We need to allow the unconscious and creative processes to kick in. I wrote about this in the blog on “Slow Down You Move Too Fast”. Some of the most elegant solutions to thorny problems come in moments of quiet reflection.

So by all means simplify. But avoid getting simplistic. Give us your prose but do not withhold your poetry. Think concisely but think deeply as well. And by all means challenge me if you sense I’m getting to be too simplistic.

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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