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Keep It Simple

Updated: Aug 17, 2023


Microsoft recently released a study claiming that due to our increasingly digitalized lifestyles, humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Shocking, right? So how do you keep the attention of a small business owner trying to make it big or even your Fortune 500 CEO? In short, follow the KISS Principle – keep it simple, stupid. What is simple though? How does it relate to design, technology, business and every other aspect of our life? John Maeda answers these questions and many more in his book The Laws of Simplicity.

The book is broken into exactly ten laws of simplicity that can be separated into three categories of increasing complexity. To “keep it simple” though, I’m only going to expound upon 3 of the laws. If you’re curious about the others, the book is slightly north of 100 pages, has some fascinating perspectives, and can be found here.

Law #3: TIME – Savings in time feels like simplicity

Savings in time is incredibly valuable. So valuable that your target audience is extremely loyal and grateful when it happens. Maeda explains that time savings can be done three different ways: Shrink time, hide time, and embody time. For example, Fed Ex shrinks time with overnight shipping. Casinos hide time by eliminating windows and clocks to make guests stay longer. I’m not sure that is possible in the board room so embodying time is much more feasible. Think of this as a progress bar on a computer when it’s updating. Studies have shown this simple progress bar reduces perceived wait time, and therefore will make the waiting experience more tolerable. As executives, this embodiment of time can be displayed as progress towards your programs of work. Quick graphs that display program progress against your targeted time benchmarks are a surefire way to communicate great strides in a simple fashion.

Law #5: DIFFERENCES – Simplicity and complexity need each other

There is more complexity in the market than ever and as technology evolves, it’s important to understand that something even simpler must stand out. Furthermore, there is a clear benefit to differentiating between complex products and offering a product that is simple to use and/or understand. Maeda states that though a product should be simple in design, complexity must be made available in explicit form to show value. Keep this law in mind when you’re trying to retain the attention of your audience. To illustrate, quick email updates regarding program progress is valuable, but be ready to provide more information if requested. Or even provide hyperlinks to deeper detail so that your investors can dig deeper if they desire.

Law #9: FAILURE – Some things can never be made simple

Maeda acknowledges that not everything can be simplified. We’re all aware that beautiful works of art cannot be displayed on a 25-pixel screen and while this may seem counterintuitive to the entire message, he states that there is always going to be a certain level of return on failure when trying to simplify. In essence, an effective infrastructure White Paper will never be less than a page and that’s okay but providing your investors with a 300-page memorandum is also futile. Find that happy medium between simple and effective knowing that there is a limit to how simple something can become.

So there you have it – despite being over 12 years old and technology progressing at a rate faster than it ever has before, these three laws (and the other seven) are directly applicable to your organization and everyday life. Do not lose sight of the power of simplicity. As leaders, it’s your duty to make sure your website is easily navigable, and your organization’s vision is quickly found. Provide your members and investors with turn-key tools such as links to workforce development opportunities. If you have a strategic plan, make sure that plan and its outcomes and deliverables are easily accessible, understood and current progress is continuously communicated. Remember, your investor is a high-level executive with a full calendar and an eight-second attention span. Add value (and retain that investor) by embracing these Laws of Simplicity in your daily practice.

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