Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not too simple.” Of course we know that he did this in the realm of science. E = MC² is an example of taking a complex idea and simplifying it for us mere mortals—but not so simple that it loses it’s accuracy.
Some people take simple things and make them complicated. A leader takes complicated things and makes them simple. This is also what makes a communicator great. We’ve all had the experience of being in a classroom where the professor wows us with complex ideas. Even though we are impressed, we remain ignorant. But we’ve also experienced the opposite—those talented professors who take a complicated topic, give us the big picture—simplifying—and now we are able to find our ball in the weeds.
So here’s a question. What are you simplifying today? This will help you lead and communicate. It gives others handles on topics and assignments. People are motivated when they get insight. Investors are motivated when they understand. Students are motivated when the light of comprehension goes on. Employees get excited when they understand—not just the what and the how—but also the why of the organization. Simplicity.
Life can seem complex. Yet in reality we are the ones who are complex. The recent movie with Meryl Streep and Alex Baldwin is an example. The title was It’s Complicated. But the only thing making it complicated were the characters in the movie. Life is simple, and the simple thing ends up being the right thing. It takes work to sort out the confusion and get to the core issue. To quote Leonardo Da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The work comes in the search for truth. A simple vocabulary is really a vocabulary of truth. Simple and true go together. And this takes effort.
Simplicity is satisfaction. It provides happiness and peace. There is no peace in complexity—only unnecessary burden and stress. In our hyperkinetic world we add complexity. This makes us less productive, less secure, decreases control, clouds our thinking, and produces anxiety. And it’s definitely not the role model we need as leaders. As we live simply, we help others to simply live.
We can make things complicated. However there should not be anything complicated about being ourselves. It’s like concentric circles. We move from the What we do, to the How we do it, to the Why. Reaching the why helps us simplify.
The closer we get to the center, the less complicated life becomes. It’s not being simplistic, but it is being simple, and there is a difference. Simplistic is naïve. Simple is profound. Simple gets to the main issue and quarantines the clutter—the complexity—so we can see more clearly.
The engineer, Kelly Johnson, helped create “Skunk Works” at Lockheed in the mid 1900’s. He coined the phrase K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). There was no implicit meaning that an engineer was stupid. It meant just the opposite. His point was that the jet aircraft they were designing must be repairable by the average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with the tools at hand. Johnson’s point was that things work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex.
This is true in systems, and it’s also true in our lives. Simplicity should be a key goal. Complexity should be avoided—or at least reduced to the most possible simplest form—but not too simple.
Simplicity is marked by a contented lifestyle. It gets to the inner circle of why. It’s a commitment to clear out, scale down, and sift through to the essentials. It includes the idea of becoming a minimalist—the idea that the intimate search for wholeness is not found in accumulating more things.
This will always include the decision to stop and let your life simmer, allowing you to steam off the craziness and complication that happens by default. Leaving things unattended breeds clutter which leads to chaos. It’s impossible to integrate and go deep in the fast lane.
Simplicity is the ultimate satisfaction. In it resides happiness and peace. Goodness and greatness are its byproducts. This truth holds fast in life and in management. Leadership is the art of making difficult things simple. One of the goals of good management is to eliminate the unnecessary. In it lies beauty, purity, and freedom. It’s hard work. Abraham Lincoln said, “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” (If I had more time, I would shorten this blog).
The Marines have a motto they use that was shortened from Semper Fidelis (Latin for Always Loyal). They say Semper Fi. We should create the motto, Simplify. It gets to the Why. It will help solve problems, create solutions, communicate clearly, facilitate understanding, encourage reflection, prompt action, eliminate stress, increase concentration and promote well-being.
Your success is in your simplicity. Simplify.
(Mick Ukleja is the co-author of the book Who Are You? What Do You Want?: Four Questions That Will Change Your Life)