Chapter 6 - The Far Side of Complexity

OCTOBER 29, 2011

Chapter 6 - The Far Side of Complexity

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

For every scientist and futurist who tells us the world is becoming more complicated every day (like we need to be reminded of that), there just as many calling for a completely different response to the pressures of 21st century life: A return to simplicity.

One of the strongest advocates for a more direct approach is Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE.  And yes, it’s the same “Neutron Jack” Welch I mentioned earlier.

In his own words:

“Insecure managers create complexity. Frightened, nervous managers use thick, convoluted planning books and busy slides filled with everything they’ve known since childhood.  

Real leaders don’t need clutter. People must have the self-confidence to be clear, precise, to be sure that every person in their organization – highest to lowest – understands what the business is trying to achieve.  

But it’s not easy.

You can’t believe how hard it is for people to be simple, how much they fear being simple.  They worry that if they’re simple, people will think they’re simple-minded.  

In reality, of course, it’s just the reverse. Clear, tough-minded people are the most simple.”  -  Jack Welch Harvard Business Review

And of course, he’s not the only one. Not by a long shot.  

Many other business consultants and strategists stress simplifying every part of a company’s operation. But they don’t mean to focus on a single part of the operation to the exclusion of the others.

For example, the relatively new term “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) or becoming “customer-centric” is one of the “hot” topics in business schools at the moment. MBA’s and their professors have developed endless formulas for calculating, tracking, and elevating CRM numbers, but to what purpose?

It won’t be enough.

“One can safely say that, using a poker analogy, being customer-oriented is just “openers”.  It gets you in the game.  It certainly will not set you apart from your competitors who have read the same books and taken the same courses.”  - Jack Trout The Power of Simplicity

One example of a successful company that believes in simplicity is Nordstrom. And that belief is evident in their employee rule manual. It’s printed on a single five-by-eight card that reads:

Nordstrom’s Employee Handbook:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company.

Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service.

Set both your personal and professional goals high.

We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom rules:

Rule # 1: Use your good judgment in all situations.

There will be no additional rules

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager or division general manager any questions at any time.

Kind of brief, isn’t it?  Short and to the point.  But there’s no arguing with the intent. It’s very clear that employees are expected to “do what’s right” for the customers on behalf of the company and themselves.

Two things you realize right off the bat here: (1) this company is definitely not paperless and (2) I'll bet they save a bunch on printing bills anyway.