Our lives are becoming increasingly complex. As we get older and start to add responsibilities we start to get overwhelmed. We add family, career, hobbies, vacations, investments, etc. All of these things add to the complexities in life.
About 6 months ago I started working on a project at work that reminded me of the power of simplification. The project had been started about two years prior with a huge budget and more stakeholders that I could even count. The leadership team asked me to take over and get the program going in the right direction.
Initially this seemed like an impossible task. It wasn’t that the program needed additional tools and ideas thrown at it. What I realized as I started my evaluation of the program was that it really needed simplification. We needed to identify the value proposition and remove all of the extras. Then we needed to improve the basic performance enough to provide value to the main stakeholders.
Life is the same way. The reason that I now know to simplify whenever faced with a challenge is because I did the exact opposite early in my career. I owned an audio engineering company and kept adding more. I added more equipment, more strategies and more ideas.
At the time I was also trying to establish a music career for myself. I had played in bands and on solo gigs and wanted to finally create a path to a career, rather than just as a hobby.
But unfortunately I took the same misguided approach. Instead of finding the most important factors and working like hell to improve, I kept looking for that missing piece. I bought equipment when I thought that was what was holding me back. I played different genres when I thought that was holding me back. But what was holding me back wasn’t equipment or style of music; it was ability. I needed to improve my ability to play music. I should have, instead, put all of the other things on hold and done everything possible to improve my abilities. By focusing, I would have addressed the area that was holding me back instead of looking for a shortcut to get around that.
Jason Fried’s book, Rework, does a great job of emphasizing this. Throughout the book he is constantly arguing that less is more and that we need to simplify our business products to make them successful.
One section really hit home for me. He said, “Guitar gurus say, ‘Tone is in your fingers.’ You can buy the same guitar, effects pedals, and amplifier that Eddie Van Halen uses. But when you play that rig, it’s still going to sound like you.”
He goes on to say, “Likewise, Eddie could plug into a crappy Strat/Pignose setup at a pawn shop, and you’d still be able to recognize that it’s Eddie Van Halen playing. Fancy gear can help, but the truth is your tone comes from you.”
This is a great message. I have made the mistake of making things too complex or trying to find the magic component that will catapult me to success. But time and time again the best strategy has actually been to simplify. Simplify what we are doing and work on the fundamentals. Work on improving the meaningful parts instead of trying to add insignificant features. And don’t be afraid to remove complexities in search of the simple.