SolidSmack is honored to feature this article by Jesse Newton, CEO of Simplify Work and Author of Simplify Work: Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity, and Engagement. Learn more about Jesse’s approach to problem-solving at simplifywork.com.

Organizations today are complicated messes. They are a scramble of matrixed structures, reporting lines, disparate systems and bureaucratic processes. Navigating these labyrinths to attempt to deliver value is time-consuming, energy-sapping and frustrating. It’s no wonder that employee engagement levels are lower than they have been in over two decades. The slowly propagating nature of organizational complexity has meant that most of us don’t even realize that this virus is slowly killing our best companies. If organizations, especially larger ones, are to keep current in today’s rapidly morphing marketplace they need to choose to simplify work by removing all the low-value clutter that is holding their people back and reignite their innovative and productive potential. The challenge is to know where to start. Based on our experience, one great place is with taking a leaf from the school of design.

Designers are inherently innovators and problem solvers who seek to simplify.”

Designers are inherently innovators and problem solvers who seek to simplify. They have to manage often competing pressures across technical, commercial, and human needs. At the same time, they have to deal with three core constraints: feasibility, viability, and desirability. But once these pressures and constraints are met in a solution, it often creates substantial value.

A well-known example of the value of design, especially design that delivers simplicity, is Apple’s iPhone. Steve Jobs possessed an almost religious belief in the power of simplicity. This guiding orientation influenced everything he touched at Apple, which was a lot, considering his CEO status. It shaped how the company was organized, how people got work done, and the products they produced. The arrival of the iPhone in 2007 was a significant milestone not only for Apple but also for consumer design. Prior to this point, people would have separate discrete products to make phone calls, listen to music, and take a photo. The iPhone for the first time integrated the phone, music player, and camera (and later many other functions). The design solution delivered a step change in the balancing of technical, commercial, and human needs. But what was most surprising was how Apple had ingeniously integrated these needs in a product that was so beautifully simple. A single screen with one button. All of the various functions organized in applications. The ability to further organize common applications into groupings. The ease of switching between functions or applications like the music player and the phone. It was pure design brilliance. And consumers responded. It has been a significant driver of Apple’s miraculous performance since its inception and has set a high design benchmark for others.

It somehow feels good when complex things are simplified. It could be that you appreciate not having to expend unnecessary energy trying to understand it. It could be that it feels good to save time. It could be that simple things just look pretty. But human beings tend to gravitate toward simple over complex, and companies are starting to finally catch up on this point. Products and experiences are increasingly designed to be as simple as possible. We’re seeing companies being successful with one or two products, like Allbirds shoes. They make two types of shoe, both with New Zealand merino wool, and that’s it. It’s a very simple offering, but the shoes are incredibly comfortable, look good, and consumers love them. CarMax has made the process of buying and selling used cars incredibly simple and easy. They have transformed the traditionally long and painful experience into a couple of simple steps, and it has been a huge hit in the marketplace. People want a product or an experience that is as easy, clear, and as simple as possible. And often consumers are willing to pay a premium for it if it means saving time and/or freeing them of hassles, stress, and frustration.

When you consider these examples of simplifying product portfolios or customer experiences or how beautifully Apple integrated so much functionality into their simple iPhone product, it’s easy to see how there are massive opportunities to simplify work; to simplify organizations and reduce or remove all the low-value, non-core activities that create overhead and prohibit organizational and individual focus. There is so much unnecessary complicated noise within organizations, especially large ones, which results in substantial wasted energy, time, and money. So often I have heard employees within large organizations claim that they can’t compete with smaller firms that “don’t have as much overhead,” which has never made sense to me. Why can’t a large organization be as nimble and as efficient as a smaller one? It sounds like a perfect designchallenge.

Design thinking, made famous by the folks at IDEO, is anapproach to problem solving that is perfectly suited for pursuingorganizational simplification. The approach encourages looking at the worldthrough the eyes of the consumer. It is through this immersion that the criticalproblems to be solved or the greatest opportunities are revealed. The designthinking approach can be organized in three major steps:

  1. Empathizing and Illuminating
  2. Ideation
  3. Prototyping and iterative implementation

In the first step we seek to truly immerse our self in the world of the worker. This reveals all kinds of contextual insights that would never be gathered purely from a survey or from data analysis. Sometimes the opportunities that deliver the greatest impact on crushing complexity are the subtle things that can be identified only through close observation.

In ideation, we bring together diverse areas of expertise and perspectives to capture any and all ideas to crush complexity. These ideasare then organized into groupings or themes, and then assessed based onrelative impact and ease of implementation. The top opportunities emergethrough this process and we can begin prototyping.

We prototype solutions so that we can rapidly capture feedback that can drive iterative improvements. We want to ensure that we reduce the risk that the solutions will fail and we want to optimize the positive impact of the solution, which is only achieved through ongoing testing and effective feedback gathering. Once we land on a prototype, it is implemented and ongoing improvement opportunities are made where and when appropriate.

It seems intuitive that design or “design thinking,” if it works on products and consumer experiences, could also help to sort out the debilitating complexity that is holding organizations and individuals back. In this day and age, there are simply too many organizations that are bogged down by too much complexity, fueled by obsolete management practices. Let’s leverage the tremendous problem-solving capacity from the field of design and rethink how organizations deliver value. The time is right to simplify work.

Simplify Work: Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity, and Engagement

In urgent response to the epidemic of crippling complexity affecting organizations around the world, Simplify Work reveals the common sources of this virus and outlines practical steps that can be taken to liberate innovation, productivity, and engagement.

Simplify Work

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Author

Jesse Newton is the author of Simplify Work; Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity and Engagement. He is the founder and CEO of Simplify Work; a global management consulting firm that helps organizations throw off the shackles of debilitating complexity and reignite top performance.