Keeping It Simple

Understanding Simplicity

Although complaints and musings about life's complications have been around since time began, the modern trend toward simplicity probably began no more than six years ago. That was when veteran entrepreneur Elaine St. James published a book called Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter (Hyperion). After appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show as an expert on simplification, St. James, of Santa Barbara, California, found enough interest in her ideas about cutting back on nonessentials that she has since written three more books. Her fifth book, Simplify Your Life At Work (Hyperion), is due out next January.

People know their lives and businesses are too complex, says St. James, pointing to the steady annual sales of 2.5 million copies that her books continue to rack up. "There are a lot of people out there who would really like to simplify their work lives, but they just don't know how to begin," she suggests. "One of the best ways for entrepreneurs to simplify their companies and lives is to engage in work that they truly enjoy and have a clear idea of what their priorities are."

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Entrepreneurs may know more about simplification than they think, however, notes Jensen. "Every single company out there is already practicing it," he says. "The problem is, they're practicing it with their customers and not their work force. When we design a Web site, we think long and hard about what's linking to what and how the information flows. But we're not very disciplined about thinking about the needs of workers."

Jensen bases his concepts about simplicity on a seven-year study of attitudes and practices in nearly 500 companies. The research involved thousands of interviews with owners, managers and employees of those companies. Jensen says the thing that struck him about all the conversations was how committed most people were to doing a better job, and how much the overly complex management styles of most managers were keeping them from doing it. "I'm blown away by the possibilities of what the work force could do," he adds, "if we were just more disciplined about how we use our time and attention."

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keeping It Simple.

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