Keep It Simple©

No, I am not writing about the already tired and overused K.I.S.S. concept (Keep It Simple, Stupid), at least not in the way that you’ve read about it before. However, I am suggesting that you focus on simplicity in how you think, believe and decide because simple is the only effective way to navigate an admittedly complicated and often gray world. I often see and work with people who are developing complicated solutions to problems or situations when simple and more direct options are right in from of them. We seem to have a penchant for coming up with the most complex and complicated answers to problems or situations rather than focusing on a simple way to think, analyze, discern and decide.

We also confuse simple with easy. Let me explain. Often when I’m discussing or sharing what I consider to be a simple approach or concept, people will challenge me by saying, “Jeff, you make it seem so easy,” but I’m not talking about easy. I’m talking about simple. There will always be disagreement on whether something is easy or hard, because those concepts are by their nature highly subjective. Notably, they are also more about the implementation and outcome of the approach, decision or strategy because there is no way to know ahead of time if something will definitively be hard or easy.

While you may have some prior experience that suggests that something “might be” hard, you never really know until you’ve done it. Think about the many times when you thought something would be hard, but at the end you say, “That was easier than I thought.” Sometimes you also expect something to be easy, and it ends up being harder than you thought. However, I do strongly believe that things often end up being as hard or easy as we believe they will be before we start, so be very careful about labeling something in advance (especially labeling something as being hard).

In contrast, simple may sometimes be subjective, but groups of people and teams will usually agree on whether something is simple in its approach or process. Therefore, focusing on simple approaches and strategies will usually make it easier for the group to understand and agree upon the approach or strategy.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, starting with a personal example. Over the past seven months I have lost a great deal of weight and quite a few inches. I feel and look great, and I’ve developed very good habits that continue to support my goal of being healthier. Notice I did not say that I’m dieting, which was an important part of my success. The research shows that the word “diet” actually hurts your efforts because it causes you to focus on denial and deprivation, rather than on healthy choices.

Whenever someone hears about or sees the outcomes of my healthier living, they often say something like “That must have been hard” or “I know that’s hard to do.” Back to the prior point, if you have already decided that something is hard or difficult, it’s challenging to imagine how your experience can be anything but hard or difficult. It also immediately sets you up for failure (in not starting or in sticking with the changes) because you’ve already told yourself that it will be hard.

I can’t really say whether my healthier living and resulting weight loss was hard or easy and, in fact, it’s irrelevant. What matters is that I’m doing things differently and thereby achieving my desired results. It’s that simple, as is my approach. Here’s the simple formula:

  • I regularly exercise (which we all know is important), which consists of some form of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, three or four times a week. While there are many obstacles to exercise, note the simplicity of this element: 3-4 times a week for only 30 minutes each, which most people would say is easier than they thought (they expect to have to exercise for long periods of time).
  • I complete the My Fitness Pal (an app) on my phone, which sets a daily calorie goal for me.
  • I make different choices in the food that I eat in order to stay on track with the My Fitness Pal daily goals.

This process is quite simple, and I can’t tell you if it’s hard or easy for you, but I can tell you that it’s been easier than I expected because it is a simple process.

Now let’s look at a business example. People regularly tell me that accountability is hard or difficult, but my experience is that, while accountability has some challenges, it can be a simple process. This one simple process makes accountability (to oneself and for others) much easier. Here’s the simple approach to accountability:

  • Make or insist on clear commitments
  • Communicate that commitments are agreements and that failure to honor a commitment impacts someone’s personal integrity
  • Accountability is a “yes” or “no” question: Did you do what you said you would do?

While there may be emotional hurdles to holding another person accountable, the process itself can and should be simple. In addition, some of our emotional hurdles with accountability are the result of not having and following a simple accountability process. For example, making sure that everyone makes clear commitments is simple, but failing to insist on clear commitments will dramatically complicate the accountability process.

Hopefully, you can see that simplicity can help you to be more effective in many different ways. It can also help make things easier for all parties concerned, but even if something is subjectively difficult, the simplicity of the approach will usually streamline some or all of the implementation process.

The key message is this – don’t over-think it, don’t over-complicate it, and don’t pre-judge situations as hard or difficult. Stated positively, look for the simple solutions, approaches or mindsets, and then take action in alignment with your simple strategy or plan. It will definitely help you achieve and exceed your objectives.

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