Simplicity is one of the most valuable things you can achieve in life and business.
Its so important, that Albert Einstein ranked it above genius on his scale of intelligence. Not every genius can turn something complicated into something simple.
And simple is a necessity. If it's not simple, you wont stick to it over the long-term. Whether that's your diet, workouts, direct outreach, content creation, or even your personal budget.
But most people approach simplicity in the wrong way. They ask the wrong questions and then try to back into a solution by deleting things.
Let's explain why these don't work and build a better solution from the ground up.
Consider this story:
My condo is a mess right now. There are papers and boxes and books everywhere.
It bothers both Kristen and I, although not necessarily enough to do anything about it. We've talked several times about how to clean it up, but we always encounter the same problem.
To organize our papers and books, we need to clear out room in the closet so we can get into our binders easily. But in order to clean the closet, we need to make space for my HAZOP gear, TV, backpacks, and jackets that are in there.
I could move my gear to the garage, but we have a bunch of furniture in there. And of course, there isn't any room for the furniture in the house because of all the clutter I just told you about.
Here's the kicker: we've been trying this approach for years. Pull out a few things, throw them away, take them to Goodwill, etc. The space is immediately filled with new things. And the problem persists.
So where do we begin? How do we clean up this unending cycle of a mess?
The answer lies in a Steve Jobs quote that I heard recently.
It comes from an idea that Greg McKeown champions in his book Essentialism, called zero-based budgeting.
Instead of trying to budget your time on the basis of existing commitments, assume that all bets are off. All previous commitments, assume all bets are off. Then begin from scratch, asking which you would add today. You can do this with everything from the financial obligations you have to the projects you are committed to, even relationships you are in. Every use of time, energy, or resources has to justify itself anew. If it no longer fits, eliminate it altogether.
Take your personal budget for example. Instead of trying to figure out how you can cut spending to meet your budget, start from a blank slate with your total income and add what is essential to your budget. You'll likely end up significantly lower than if you were to try to remove a subscription here or there from your existing budget.
Steve Jobs explains this beautifully when he met with a potential software provider that he wanted to buy. When the founders realized they had booked a meeting with Jobs himself, they started scrambling to simplify their system and put together their pitch deck. About halfway through their presentation Jobs stopped them and said no. You're going to build it with a simple drag and drop interface and a single button.
He said (paraphrased) simplicity is built from the ground up, not by removing complexity.
And here we find part of the solution to our cleaning problem.
Instead of trying to pull out one or two items to make room for something else - which is what we've been doing, we need to pull everything out and change our storage system.
Sure, we need to get rid of things that we don't use, but the problem isn't that we don't clean enough. The problem is that we don't have the right system for storage.
By removing everything and installing a better system with racks and hangers for easy access, we could create a better system. Then we could replace everything we use in an organized manner and get rid of everything we don't need.
A zero-based budgeting approach.
And if you're wondering what this has to do with business, it's this:
Maybe you don't have a physical organization problem but you likely have a digital organization problem. Where do you put all of the things you read or learn? How do you access them later when you need to look them up?
My guess is that your brain looks a lot like my condo right now. Stuff is scattered everywhere.
But do you recognize that this is your problem?
Diagnosing the problem is at least half the battle.
Consider this passage I read in Sonke Ahrens' book How to Take Smart Notes:
There is this story where NASA tried to figure out how to make a ballpoint pen that works in space. If you have ever tried to use a ballpoint pen over your head, you have probably realised it is gravity that keeps the ink flowing. After a series of prototypes, several test runs and tons of money invested, NASA developed a fully functional gravity-independent pen, which pushes the ink onto the paper by means of compressed nitrogen. According to this story, the Russians faced the same problem. So they used pencils (De Bono, 1998, 141).
Sounds exactly like the online business realm. Complicated products designed to solve complicated - yet completely unnecessary - problems.
Do you need an anti-gravity pen or do you need to write in space?
Do you need better headlines or do you need to write content that is more interesting?
I don't know about you, but when I get emails or see content in my social media feeds, I'm looking at the "from" line, not the subject line. I care more about who is sending me information than specifically what it is. Because I know and trust certain people and I want to read their content!
If your problem is headlines, surely I could sell you my brand new AI software system guaranteed to write better headlines for your content (only $297 per month if you join today. But consider yourself warned - the program only works 8 hours per day so spots are limited! Act now or you'll miss out).
On the other hand, if you realize that you need to write more interesting content, perhaps you'll consider asking one more question:
How can I build a content system from the ground up that allows me to write interesting content without needing a bunch of software or swipe files?
And as you explore this question you start to realize that there are several aspects to it:
There're more to it than that, but you get the idea. Creating high quality content isn't just about inserting tactics and software to solve point problems. It's about creating a system from the ground up that can eliminate as many of these problems. Then you can figure out how to solve the problems you still have.
Building simple systems in your life and business requires you to focus on the right problem and then build a solution to it from the ground up.
Any other approach will leave you with more complexity than when you started.