Does Simplicity Make the Complex Possible?

There is power in simplicity.

While I’d like to take credit for saying that, it actually is a comment a young woman provided as part of the evaluation she completed after taking part in leadership training I helped deliver this week.

I was both proud and grateful that she saw the value of the training and resources we had provided to help participants succeed in their diverse work as community leaders.

The truth is that we have worked extraordinarily hard to reduce the confusion and complexity of community building by providing a clear road map. It hasn’t been easy to develop a framework that can accommodate the diversity of communities while motivating change, but we like to think we’re getting there.

Unfortunately, it too often seems that when something is presented as being simple and straightforward, many are of the opinion that it can’t be of value.

Too often it seems people confuse simple, with simplistic.

In our increasingly complex world of more, better, faster, ‘simplicity’ is a key value. The pace of change isn’t likely to slow any time in the near future, so we will all need to work diligently if we want to keep things, especially innovation and change, from being complicated and overwhelming.
I think it begins with making simplicity a priority. Of course it is tempting to avoid taking the extra time to make things simple and direct especially when we are moving fast. It does, of course, take much more time and energy to ensure we produce clear and concise plans, policies, directions, resources, and materials. But, to get simplicity, it has to be valued. 

One of the reasons we don’t end up with simplicity is that it requires knowing a subject extraordinarily well. If we don’t take the time to really understand by listening, researching, analyzing, experimenting, testing, applying, and refining, we likely will get simplistic instead of simple.

Getting to simple also requires a willingness to challenge and be willing to let go of what may already exist. That doesn’t negate the potential for retaining something traditional, just that it must be a conscious decision if simplicity is truly a priority.

One way to make things simple is to increase the use of stories or analogies and decrease the initial amount of detail. Stories and analogies somehow manage to build a bridge between facts and theories and show how theory can be put into action. Stories open up others to seeing how things could be different, and clarify what might otherwise have been difficult to convey. I’m also a big fan of one page models, graphics, and charts.

Getting to simple may also mean being prepared to start over again. If something is too complex, it may be necessary to break things down into smaller components or, if that fails, go back to square one.
How will you know when you do get it right?

It seems simplicity is achieved when everyone can easily understand and use the knowledge, plan, or resource regardless of their experience, literacy, or learning style.

In other words, if it can be described simply, it can be used simply. After all, when push comes to shove, maybe it is simplicity that makes the complex possible.

Posted on 10-05-14

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