Keeping It Simple

Know Your Limits

Being simple isn't the same as being slow. "This is not 'Keep it simple, stupid,' " Jensen says. Simplifiers have to be careful not to appear condescending to employees. Instead, they need to keep the focus on trying to understand exactly what workers need, and how to provide it.

Not every worker needs you to simplify, Jensen cautions. "If you have a team of people who thrive on complexity, then you'd be overmanaging, investing in stuff they don't need," he says.

And, perhaps surprisingly, an investment in simplicity can be significant. "To create a simpler company is a major change effort," says Jensen. "Just like Six Sigma [see "Cutting Edge," May 1999] and everything else." Jensen estimates it would take two years and considerable training to completely simplify a company. "It involves designing structures, processes and tools that focus on the needs of the people actually doing the work, not just customers and the company."

However, he adds, an entrepreneur can get plenty of benefit by doing no more than simplifying his or her personal approach to business. And whether you practice it personally or roll it out companywide, net costs will be zero or less. "What we're doing is saving time," he says. "It costs zero time and zero dollars when you change how people use time."

The trend toward simplicity is growing, says St. James. She points to ad campaigns from companies such as Honda, Samsung and MCI Worldcom that stress the simplifying aspects of their products.

At this point, however, Jensen sees few companies actively simplifying the way they work with their own employees. "For the most part," he says, "it's not even on the radar screen."

  • Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage In A World Of More, Better, Faster (Perseus Books) by Bill Jensen describes findings of the Morristown, New Jersey, consultant's 7-year study of complexity and simplicity in business, and presents his prescription for simplifying the way businesses are run. You can learn more and see the study online at

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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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