‘Simplicity is genius’

I think we need to campaign for simplicity in the business world

The best CVs are not the longest ones; the overly complex ones; or the fancy / showy ones
The best CVs are not the longest ones; the overly complex ones; or the fancy / showy ones

By Kevin-James Fenech

Kevin is the founder and owner of JOB Search - jobsearch.mt and FENCI Consulting fenci.eu.

My inspiration here is Anthony Joshua’s victory over Andy Ruiz to reclaim his WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles last weekend. In the post-match press conference, the now two time champion, AJ (as he is affectionately known), said: ‘simplicity is genius’!

Essentially, AJ’s game plan for the rematch was: ‘hit and don’t get hit’; simplicity at its best. Hence, the use of the jab; hence the strategy to win on points rather than go for the knock-out; hence his fighting weight being 10 lbs less than usual; hence his emphasis on boxing as opposed strength strengthening.

Simplicity really is ‘genius’ but I fear that we really need to revive this concept, especially in business, since everything tends to get more complex or complicated overtime. Let’s consider the business world; at start-up stage, a business is nimble, uncomplicated and focused. As it grows and scales-up we introduce ‘management’ which in turn introduces processes and systems. Eventually when the business is fully mature, organisational complexity creep-in and the people running the business stop being entrepreneurial and become ‘managers’.

Complexity rules! Eventually all successful businesses grow so much that they slow down, become top-heavy and lose market share to smaller and nimbler competitors with simpler business models. The usual reaction at this stage is to restructure and go back to basics so as to simply the business model. If only they kept the business simple in the first place.

Alternatively, let’s look at recruitment: the best CVs are not the longest ones; the overly complex ones; or the fancy / showy ones. The best CVs are the ones that manage to simply communicate enough information to get to the first interview; no more and no less. It is easier to write a long or complex CV than it is to craft a concise/short but highly effective CV. Again ‘simplicity is genius’ here. Yet people underestimate simplicity and invariably always try to say too much in their CV when they don’t have to.

My approach to everything; from management consultancy, recruitment and/or solving business problems is to strip things from their complexity and go back to basics. Always! I am a firm believer that the simpler we can make things the more effective we are. Sometimes it seems like I am being overly simplistic, which I am not and is quite different from making things simpler (not many appreciate the difference), but I always find that people are biased against simplicity.

My own love for ‘simplicity’ originally came from guru Edward De Bono and later on in life the legendary Steve Jobs. I applied this approach to my consultancy work and never looked back. In fact, I think every business would benefit from having a ‘Chief Simplicity Officer’ or equivalent since the most common thing to do is to add layers of complexity, bureaucracy and/or management -fat.

I believe it was Steve Jobs who had said: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

I would add ‘focus’ since deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do and this ultimately is what focus is all about. Yet, I digress momentarily, since this article is about ‘simplicity’.

Something else which concerns me is the increased complexity of financial reporting. I think recent changes to IFRS standards, are making financial statements less meaningful i.e. the sophistication and complexity being introduced, is making financial reporting overly difficult to understand and this is dangerous.

I still remember when Philips Electronics (aka Philips) nearly went bankrupt in the 1990s and one of the key reasons according to Gerard Ruizendaal, at the time a member of the company’s group management committee, was the following: “We analysed, of course, what had happened to make sure it never happened again and one of the many conclusions was that all our sophisticated [internal] reporting was too sophisticated and not really understood”.

We are now in the unenviable situation whereby the interpretation of ‘IFRS standards’ is essential and dependent on ‘experts’. Therefore, financial statements can now only be fully understood by ‘experts’ and we need ‘experts’ to help us interpret them, which to my mind defeats the very purpose of such financial statements. 

I think we need to campaign for simplicity in the business world. We need all organisations to fight complexity wherever it is and if done properly there is so much latent value that can be unleashed. I also think people will appreciate a call for simplicity since complexity, in general, creates a lot of stress for everyone.

Simplicity truly is genius. Alleluia!

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