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The Simplicity Thesis

The Simplicity Thesis

Simplicity is a worthy challenge: by pushing myself to communicate more succinctly (see 4.16.11 blog "In Search of Brevity"), my thought and actions sharpened these last few years; recently, we developed and rolled out a consumer product called "Simplicity". Rigorous research and clear selection criteria helped propel it towards significant retail success. Bigger than my famous beaded lamp project for Pottery Barn and in scope more like IKEA's Benno Series, named in honor of yours truly, for lovingly and persistently negotiating IKEA USA's simple commercial priorities with the Swedish style police in Almhult. So listen up! (For Fast Company Aaron Levie's complete blog click here).

The only companies or products that will succeed now are the ones offering the lowest possible level of complexity for the maximum amount of value.

A fascinating trend is consuming Silicon Valley and beginning to eat away at rest of the world: the radical simplification of everything.

Want to spot the next great technology or business opportunity? Just look for any market that lacks a minimally complex solution to a sufficiently large problem.

The irony of simplicity is that it invariably lets you do more. Simplicity isn’t about giving up any value--it’s a movement around designing technology or products thoughtfully to make them substantially more useful and attainable. Some of the simplest solutions on the market are equally the most advanced--Square beats out any other form of retail payment service; Nest offers the most compelling and powerful thermostat ever invented.

Here are just a few ways to get started in achieving minimum complexity:

  • Think end to end.  Simplicity relates to the entire customer experience, from how you handle pricing to customer support.
  • Say no.  Kill features and services that don’t get used, and optimize the ones that do.
  • Specialize.  Focus on your core competency, and outsource the rest--simplicity comes more reliably when you have less on your plate.
  • Focus on details.  Simple is hard because it’s so easy to compromise; hire the best designers you can find, and always reduce clicks, messages, prompts, and alerts.
  • Audit constantly.  Constantly ask yourself, can this be done any simpler? Audit your technology and application frequently.

Companies that will win in the long term are those that can continue to simplify experience while simultaneously tackling harder and harder problems. Sure, it’s novel and powerful that Square can accept payments for a 10-person retail store, but when they start to do it for Gap, the game is radically changed. Amazon succeeds by continuing to charge into all areas of infrastructure delivery--consistently launching new tools and platforms that would otherwise cost developers an arm and a server closet, all with the same focus on abstraction and simplification.

When technology was unavoidably complex, it was forgivable that solutions weren't elegant and simple. It was understandable that finding and visiting a new doctor could take weeks, or searching for enterprise information wasn’t successful. But with a myriad of elegant and simple solutions entering the market, users expect far more from their products. 

Simplicity has become a virus that will either destroy you or catapult you to the front of the market.

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