Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Power of Simplicity

The story is told of a man flying in a hot air balloon who realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon and shouts, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?” The man below says, “Yes, you are in a hot air balloon, hovering 30 feet above this field.”

“You must work in information technology,” says the balloonist. “I do,” replies the man. “How did you know?’ “Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but it is of no use to anyone.”

The man below says, “You must work in management.” “I do” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?” “Well, says the man, “you don’t know where you are, or where you are going, but you expect me to be able to help you. You are in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault.”

Ever had one of those encounters? At some point we all have. Often, our expectations are fueled by our perceptions. Perceptions can be deceptive, and while expectations need to be high, they also must be realistic.

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber shares some practical wisdom about the roles of leadership. “The problem today,” says Webber,” is too much information sharing and not enough sense making: too many messages, too many meetings, too many e-mails, too many change programs, too many changes in direction. The problem only gets worse when the stakes go up-when a company is facing a crisis, when it’s up against an innovative competitor and the old ways won’t work. That’s when too many leaders give in to the temptation to ramp up the volume an amp up the adrenaline. The result: an already overtaxed system collapses from overload.”

I neither want to overstate nor understate the idea here, but a fresh look at simplicity may be in order. Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” If your organization is on the brink of collapse due to “one more meeting” for the sake of a meeting, or one more organizational makeover, then take these ideas into consideration.

Simplify your mission. Simplicity of mission is not dumbing- down the mission, nor does it equate to less work. It means working with a smarter understanding of the mission and how to achieve its stated purpose.

Simplifying the mission is about people in your organizational structure being able to connect the dots because leadership made sure they saw the big picture and knew where the ship was headed. To this end; meetings, when called, should be intentional and with a purpose, people should be empowered and trusted, common sense should prevail.

Simplify communication. Survey most people within any organization and one of the top frustrations is that of communication. Over the years, I have seen up close how morale is sacrificed at the expense of clear, open, and relevant communication. When key personnel are kept in the dark, when office politics stifle ideas, the consequences can be costly. As Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

If communication is to make sense and be simple, the following should be examined carefully: the methods, the intended audience, the desired outcome, and the frequency. If one of these methods is out of balance; there is potential for problems down the line. Communication is the life blood of your organization. If you don’t communicate well internally don’t expect communication to go well externally.

Is your organization about to buckle under from the weight of too much information and not enough sense making? Perhaps it is time as Henry David Thoreau said to, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you have imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

Keep it simple.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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