HR & Management

Life is really simple - and so is business

5 min read

12 December 2012

Liana Dinghile explains why simplicity can be the key to innovation, success, and business growth.

Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” It’s acclaimed in so many walks of life, but as a concept, simplicity is the one we tend to stray from the most. 

In the quest for differentiation, to create something unique and new, we search out new quirks and nuances, adding an extra layer of complexity each time. 

Business is no different. The marketplace is crowded, winning ideas are at a premium and the harsh economic climate is providing a tough lesson in Darwinism for those unable to weather the storm. 

Now, the need for simplicity and its correlating economic value is at its greatest. Regardless of size, scale, age or location, the art of simplicity is a universal lesson for all forms of business. 

According to the 2012 Simplicity Index, 86 per cent of UK consumers are more likely to recommend a brand that offers a simpler experience, and – depending on the category – are willing to pay an average premium of 2.3 per cent and 4.4 per cent for those simpler communications and experiences. Looking at the UK alone, more than £5.2bn is being left on the table.

On a global scale, the most telling insight revealed from our study is that since 2009, a hypothetical stock index comprised of the top ten ranked simplest brands from the Simplicity Index has increased by 138 per cent since 2009; more than double the increase of the S&P, Dow, FTSE and any of the other stock indexes. 

The choice seems simple. But simplicity itself isn’t simple. To use my own Confucius-esque quote, “Complexity is the path of least resistance.” Simplicity takes courage and a degree of ruthlessness; a quality already heralded as a necessity for a business in its infancy. 

In a discussion on the subject of simplicity earlier this year, serial entrepreneur Stephen Fear defined simplicity as “no more than five key elements” – a mantra that has held him in wonderful stead in creating countless successful startup businesses over the years. 

The need for simplicity runs throughout a business; internally as well as externally. Some of the strongest findings of this year’s index related to the simplicity of an employee’s work life. Across the board, understanding a company’s mission was simple, but employees found it much more difficult to identify the ways in which their work impacts that mission. 

Large or small, the businesses that define roles connect people and support collaboration can foster a sense of empowerment and pride. Employee motivation comes with a clear sense of purpose and a personal connection to that purpose.

When the stakes are high, as a business owner it can be easy to lose focus and stray from the simple path. Achieving simplicity is anything but easy, but the dividends for your employees, your customer, your business and your bottom line are remarkable.

Four quick tips for keeping a business simple:

  1. Engage your employees and share your business promise, values and voice. A company with an aligned vision is able to cut through complexity and not be distracted by it; 
  2. Have a clearly defined purpose and focus on always delivering on customers needs in a responsible way;
  3. Do less not more, and do it with less. Focus on a smaller number of extraordinary initiatives than a lot of ordinary ones and use small teams with clearly defined non-overlapping responsibilities; and
  4. Remember how your customers want to engage with you. Focus on making these touchpoints, making them as simple and painless as possible.

Liana Dinghile is group director of strategy at EMEA, based at Siegel+Gale’s London office.