Courage in simplicity

Garr Reynolds (he of Presentation Zen fame) in an MIT Sloan Management Review piece on design thinking for managers (free sub reqd):

Managers may be afraid to embrace simplicity. In business we are all scared of being called “too simple.” People confuse simplicity, which is hard to achieve, with simplistic, which is easy and usually lacking value. When in doubt, a manager may add a layer of complexity where it is not needed just to be safe. It takes courage to be simple.

Simplicity reigns

If we could just simplify stuff (discharge instructions, number of stent brands to choose from, working with other departments, etc., etc., etc.) in health care the system would greatly improve.

Retailers are trying. From The Wall Street Journal:

For years, supermarkets, drugstores and discount retailers packed their shelves with an ever-expanding array of products in different brands, sizes, colors, flavors, fragrances and prices.

Now, though, they believe less is more.

The article is likly behind the password wall.  So here’s the meat of their argument (though likely quite different than the benefits to health care, the general jist is that simplification improves business):

Now retailers are cleaning up the clutter. They are trying to cater to budget-conscious shoppers who want to simplify shopping trips and stick to familiar products. Retailers have found that eliminating certain products can lift sales and profits, in part by cutting excess inventory and making more room for house brands.

“All that go-go 1990s where we were adding items in and adding items in, and people wanted more, more, more, more choice… just didn’t pay off,” said Catherine Lindner, Walgreen’s divisional vice president for marketing development, at a recent conference. Looking at store shelves, “People say, ‘Whoa, you’re bombarding me. Help me figure out what I need.'”

In: Simplicity is Difficult

Larry Cheng at Thinking About Thinking:

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that building a product, service or application that is defined by its simplicity is extraordinarily hard.  It takes real talent and ingenuity to create simplicity.  And once you have achieved it – it is as real a barrier to entry as a slew of patents or technical secret sauce.  Simplicity is that valuable.

Simplicity is difficult.  But that’s the beauty.  And the opportunity.

Keep it simple business model

Southwest Airlines provides an example of a “keep it simple” service offering (simple = concentrated, specific, focused; see post below); in other words, execution is key (and easier):

  • They don’t fly everywhere
  • Sparse customer amenities
  • No seating class distinctions
  • Fewest customer options
  • No choices on type of aircraft
  • Simplest pricing structure
  • Bare-bones frequent flier program
  • No frills
  • Few pretenses
  • Peanuts, not meals


  • Good schedules for destinations served
  • Fewest cancellations
  • Best on-time performance
  • Safest airline worldwide
  • Fastest gate turnaround
  • Employees appear to be happy
  • Simplest customer-interface
  • Highest customer ratings
  • Most consistently profitable
  • Lots of peanuts

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