Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

Over the past year, I’ve heard this quote pop up more and more. Initially, I heard it attributed to Steve Jobs, but a quick Google Search (no, I’m not going to pretend I use DuckDuckGo) seems to show it first came from Leonardo da Vinci. No matter who initially said it, I think there’s such a valuable lesson within this quote. 

Here’s the deal; when setting out to build anything, it’s so easy to get consumed with the bells and whistles. You want to add 12 new features to your product when in reality, you only need 5. You want to add 15 pages to your new website when only three will be looked at by most people. You want to use seven tools for the job when in reality, it only requires three. 

Here’s a great example; recently, we set out to build a website for Z Mark. After days of work, we had a modern-looking front page with all the buzz words, a fancy about page, dedicated pages to become an affiliate, Whitelabel our services, contact us, and more. Nice, right? Not really. After hours of labor, the site didn’t look anything close to done — but we had to finish up to move onto the next project.

With little hesitation, I decided enough was enough. We threw up a simple page with our logo, a greeting, along with a short description of what we do. Then we added some logos, along with a note from me. But if you didn’t look closely, you may have missed it. We also have a sentence at the bottom telling people to get in touch if they are interested in becoming an affiliate or white-labeling our services. I guarantee you 80% of people will still reach out, and it all goes to the same place anyway. It’s that simple – we used the 80/20 rule and rolled out this page in about an hour. Sure, we might miss out on a bit of business in the short term, but it allows us to move onto the next project instead of being stuck on something so simple. Plus, we can always come back and add the bells and whistles later. 

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You see, every-time you overcomplicate something, not only is it harder to build out, it’s a maintenance nightmare. It’s better to build half of a product than a full product that’s halfway there.

Another example — right now, we’re revamping everything for Day to Day Aid. And we’re cutting all the bloat. Even if we see decent results from some strategies, we’re going all in on what’s been proven to work. It’s easier to manage, and you have a sizable pool of ideas to work with.

And it’s not just me. Part of the reason I love Basecamp is its straightforward approach to everything, including product creation. They frequently throw out features to make for a simple product (and let me tell you, it makes for a great UI). It may upset some customers in the short term (including myself), but it makes for a great experience in the long term. And if you need a particular feature, you can always look elsewhere. Look at Hey World (the platform I’m writing this on, backed by Basecamp). It’s as simple as you can get. You write an email to world@hey.com and press send – it’s posted to a webpage with your thoughts and a box to opt-in. Nothing else but some legal junk. It doesn’t even use JavaScript.

Another excellent example of this is Steve Jobs himself. When he returned to Apple in 1997, one of the biggest problems he saw was a messy product line, which created significant confusion for customers. So what’d he do? He cut 70% of products. And in the end, it resulted in a profit increase of over $1.3 billion just a year later. 
Sometimes you need to give up a little to get a lot back. Do it once, and you won’t stop. 

In business you need to make tough decisions

For as long as I can remember, it’s been hard for me to make tough decisions. Perhaps we need to pull the plug on a campaign that just isn’t performing, or maybe we need to let a seasoned team member go. It could even be that we need to decide between three applicants for a job, all of which look promising.

Here are some steps that I’ve used to make it a little easier to make hard decisions. Although they are super simple and may seem obvious, for someone like me, I hope they help;

1) Take a hard look at the data/facts

Often times, it’s easy to ignore the data;  perhaps part of the reason is that you wish you did sooner and it’ll look even worse now. Trust me, you’ll feel better after just reviewing it. Look at the data, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision. If you make decisions logically vs emotionally, it’ll be better for everyone in the long run.

2) Don’t justify bad decisions by calling them “long term moves”

I’ve caught myself doing this many times; I’ll say we need to go down a certain path, because although it doesn’t make the most sense in the short term, it pans out in my idealistic version of the long-haul. Sometimes these decisions work out, but more often that not, with pivots and third party forces we’re going down an entirely different path. I’ve created a new rule for myself — unless something requires a lot of ground work, or is part of an ongoing project, the most I can look in the future is a month; this seems to have done the trick in combating this problem.

3) Find someone to help you make decisions

If it’s hard to follow steps 1 and 2 I hear you – it is for me as well. One trick I’ve found to combat this is working with someone else. For me, this has often been a COO, but it could also be an assistant, chief of staff, or business partner. It doesn’t really matter who it is, as long as they are able to help you look at things straight and come to a decision.