When I think about the issues and problems we wrestle with everyday at work- whether contract negotiations, software development, product messaging, priorities, training, corporate strategy, customer support, HR, pricing, and so on- the most elegant solution is always a simple one. Rarely is it easy to find and, even more so, to do.
I wish otherwise. Life would be easier.
And that’s the red flag. The easy way out doesn’t mean the simplest and definitely not the most elegant. In fact, easy usually means “I’m lazy.” And the simplest solution is not necessarily the least complex. But, it is the easiest to understand.
So, how do we find it? My approach is to first understand the problem. Many times, it is not what it seems at the start. “Why?” is the operative question. The more I ask why, the more I really understand. Sometimes, the actual problem revealed is completely different from where I started.
Then, brainstorm the solution. What I love to do is not take the first try. When I was a senior project manager developing an international cash management system, my team came to me with a great technical design. I said, “Good stuff, but I think it can be better. Simpler. Come back in 2 weeks.” Then, they would come back excited and tell me that, indeed, they do have even a better idea. I said, “Great! But, I think you can do even simpler, better. Come back in a week.” After grumbling and mumbling curses under their breath, they came back even more excited and told me that this solution was indeed the bees knees. I agreed (to the great relief of the team). The client grasped the solution and its benefits easily.
More recently, I asked our key web developers to get me something that I could use to keep in touch with all my employees, know what’s going on in the company in real time, communicate with key clients and vendors, keep track of decisions and hold all the supporting info. The killer was that it had to be as simple to use as a phone, eliminates email and keeps things organized better than my desk. Otherwise, I’d never use it. It took awhile. But I remember they kept asking me and others in the company two questions over and over: 1) Why do you need this feature?, and 2) does it make things simpler? (another ancillary question: is it intuitive?). They were incredibly focused on keeping it simple. The result was elegant: Zeltgo.
As hard as it is to build simple and elegant software, perhaps even harder is crafting a simple, elegant message to describe it. I admire copywriters, creative directors, marketing people that create a simple, understandable messages about software services. It borders on the magical for me.
Whether it’s a software developer, a marketing guru, or a preacher coming up with something simple to grasp, use and possibly effect change, these “designers” are like a Mozart, Beethoven, Handel or Ravel writing a score for 70-100 musicians to play that everyone listening can understand, touch and even feel.
Simple takes a lot of work.
Published Jan 18, 2016