4 Ways to Ensure Simplicity in BusinessLast Updated: May 11, 2021
If your product or service is not simple to explain, easy to use, and does not have a strong identifiable purpose, you are most likely headed for trouble. Here are four things to consider by way of keeping it simple.
SEASONED entrepreneurs often caution business newbies to be prepared for failure, and history is littered with a veritable graveyard (or virtual “What Not To Do In Business” museum) of crash-and-burns due to bad decisions. Often, the item is too complex for users. A good example of this is Microsoft’s Windows Vista OS. Designed to fix flaws in previous systems, almost everyone—pundits, industry pros, home users—found the new OS completely unusable. Released in January 2007, it was gone within four months. That was a flawed product. But even with the best offerings, ensuring simplicity in business is hard work, however. Where do you start? Here are five pointers to take on board.
1. Don’t Deviate From a Strong Core Purpose
“The pub trade is a business like no other. I don’t even sell drink. I sell empathy, sympathy, solace, celebration—good times.”
WHEN you’re in a social or networking setting, and someone asks what you do, it’s sensible to make your time ‘in the spotlight’ as interesting as possible, and deliver your response in a nutshell.
There is nothing more disconcerting than watching the eyes of someone you are talking to, glaze over or furtively dart around the room in search of a quick getaway.
Simplicity in business is a sure-fire way to keep your offering attractive and appealing. Anything it does should fulfil a strong core purpose, which will be reflected in the core values of your operation.
It’s easy to lose connection with this purpose and these values, but you must regularly refresh your focus, so that everything you say or do reflects those selfsame primal factors.
Successful Irish publican Benny McCabe, based in Cork, once remarked: “The pub trade is a business like no other. I don’t even sell drink. I sell empathy, sympathy, solace, celebration—good times.”
McCabe thought the decline in the Irish pub trade was caused by an emotional disconnect between proprietors and their businesses—a failure on the part of some to appreciate the original statute book definition of a public house “as a section of a private residence into which you welcome members of the public”.
“If my focus was selling drink at the cheapest price, I would open an off-licence. I don’t run an off-licence. I run a pub,” says McCabe, who ensures that every establishment in his portfolio of pubs reflects these core values.
2. Make Your Business Easy to Explain
IF YOU’RE unable to explain the business in a succinct sentence to yourself—a sentence that chimes with your purpose and values—the idea may require resetting, or a return to the drawing board. Simplicity in business, and success, demands clarity. Bluntly put, if you can’t sell it to yourself, who can you sell it to.
It’s a good exercise to frequently ‘sell’ your business to yourself, within strict time and word limits. This is something that you can have fun with too, and attempt to apply the same principles to the broadest concepts.
For instance, US poet Robert Frost offers the following, severely compressed, definition of life: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It Goes On.”
Here is another useful research aid: a January 2015 article by Business Insider’s Drake Baer and Mike Nudelman that lists 50 short single-sentence summaries of the most popular business books.
3. Embrace The Figurative
“It’s not called the Wheel; it’s called the Carousel.”
WALTER Isaacson’s Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, recounts that as early as 1983, Jobs was explaining how, by modelling computers on metaphors like “desktop”, Apple was leveraging experience people already have.
“The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious. People know how to deal with a desktop intuitively. If you walk into an office, there are papers on the desk. The one on the top is the most important. People know how to switch priority.”
The process of working toward the golden goal of simplicity in business is beautifully and potently illustrated in a scene from the television series Mad Men, when Don Draper and his ad agency work on a campaign for a photographic slide projector that its developers, Kodak, have tentatively branded ‘The Wheel’.
In a darkened meeting room, delivering the pitch over a succession of family photographs projected by the device, Don Draper tells the Kodak reps that the product is a time machine. “It goes backwards, and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel; it’s called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels—around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we’re loved.”
4. Stick To Your Guns
STICKING to your guns is very important in cases where your product or service is brand new, and untested. If you have an existing client base, it’s understandable that you begin customising and tweaking according to feedback.
When this happens, it’s easy to overburden your product with features, and this can cause fragmentation among your potential market, with individual or groups of users engaging with only a specific feature of your offering. Saying no is part of the hard slog that is the road to simplicity and user engagement.
It’s the one area where simplicity in business is absolutely crucial to success. Again, Steve Jobs, quoted in the Isaacson biography, when launching the iPod confidently dismissed the opposition mp3 players on the market. He branded them “brain dead” because “they were complicated”.
So to summarise, make it easy to explain, fulfilling a strong core purpose reflective of you and your business values, frequently sell the idea to yourself, tap into the emotional connection a market will make with your product, and follow your inner radar.
Simplicity clarifies your offering and helps keep your horizon clear.