As I am reading Jim Collin’s classic book, Good to Great, I came across a section where his team of researchers were discussing what made a company go from just good to an incredible example of great success as an organization. They wanted to identify the similarities in great companies and what was it that helped them achieve this level of success.
He talks about a time when the researchers were all discussing how important strategy was to the great companies success or the good companies lack of greatness. They couldn’t find concrete differences until someone pointed out “these were simple, simple, simple ideas.”
Simplicity is the key for companies to transform from good to great but it also is the key for us to transform from good to great individually. But simplicity isn’t enough to drive us towards our goals. It helps us have a clear understanding of steps and direction but that can easily lead to poor decisions and a misunderstanding of simplicity versus laziness.
In the book Collins later provides an example of an airline pilot landing a plan, going through checklists and making crucial decisions seamlessly. After giving the pilot example he says “Now take a step back and think about the model here. The pilot operates within a very strict system, and she does not have freedom to go outside of that system. (You don’t want airline pilots saying ‘Hey, I just read in a management book about the value of being empowered - freedom to experiment, to be creative, to be entrepreneurial, to try a lot of stuff and keep what works!’) Yet at the same time, the crucial decisions - whether to take off, whether to land, whether to abort, whether to land elsewhere - rest with the pilot. Regardless of the strictures of the system, one central fact stands out above all others: The pilot has ultimate responsibility for the airplane and the lives of the people on it.”
To me this highlights the most important thing that I have learned in my life. Our systems and habits determine our success or lack of success. The systems and habits that we have formed are the consistent aspects that take us towards or away from our goal. Yes we have a conscious effort that can overcome aspects of a poorly designed system but if the system is solid then we are free to focus on flying the plane rather than trying to monitor each aspect in our lives that influence the goal.
This is how we get to a simplistic understanding. It becomes simple because we have crafted the right systems that are taking us where we want to go. We can then simplify and focus on the aspects that we have control over. We no longer have to worry about the mundane steps and daily routines that need to take place. These become automatic and we are free to focus on the larger aspects and monitoring our systems to make sure they are taking us where we want to go.
Regardless of whether you are talking about a large corporation with its volumes of processes and procedures or you are talking about our personal lives with our numerous tendencies, habits and routines. Both actually represent the same thing. They are the driving systems that will ultimately determine whether or not we consistently reach our goals.