Why Simplicity = Survival: Matt May, Dan Roam & Bill Jensen in Conversation
“There are two core skills we all have to have now:
The ability to synthesize super-fast anything that’s coming in;
and going out, the ability to do speed-freak clarity,
the ability to get to the point faster.
And that’s hard.”
Bill Jensen, Mr Simplicity
He was my wardrobe
Bill Jensen‘s The Simplicity Survival Handbook was the book that, like Narnia’s wardrobe, opened up the world of focus, productivity and impact to me. In that book and in his most recent one Hacking Work he’s been a constant voice for figuring out the smart way to deal with the overwhelm that’s part and parcel of everyday working life.
In our interview, he wrestles with this crucial insight to how we do the work we do: you not only have to absorb stuff quickly, but you’ve also got to find a path through it fast.
The intake brings its own challenges, notably how do you stay out of the echo-chamber, so you’re not just seeing and hearing things that reinforce what you already know?
But the ability to synthesize and summarize and get to an elegant insight also difficult. In someways, this is the definition of strategy: to see the landscape and to plot a path over it towards the horizon.
But how do you do that? Matt May offers up an insight
Chess vs Checkers
There’s a difference between vanilla simplicity and elegant simplicity, and it deals with the notion of complexity. It’s the difference between chess and checkers. Both games are played on the same board. Chess is a far more complex game, but it’s all about winning the games in the least number of moves. Checkers is just about accumulating your opponent’s complete army.
Matt May, champion for elegance
Matt and I talked about the insights from his first book In Pursuit of Elegance, insights he’s further explored in his latest, The Laws of Subtraction. Of the six rules that May proposes in the book, one stands out in the context of this discussion:
Limiting information engages the imagination
I’m sure he’s right, but I’m not sure it’s the whole truth. Certainly there’s value in not getting overwhelmed by information that creates “analysis paralysis” or at a more mundane level death by PowerPoint.
But equally, there’s value in getting unexpected information to help shift the thinking. The mash-up of the old with new content, stimulus and processes can also engage the imagination in break-through ways.
But if we focus on limiting the information, here’s one particularly powerful way to do just that…
Stop the blah-blah-blah
In our Great Work Interview, his point was clear: We’ve got verbal diarrhea, both spoken and written, and that’s contributing to the mess. It’s less that a picture is worth a thousand words and more that drawing creates focus (“what’s essential?”), space (“what happens here?”), a way of summarizing complexity that transcends words (metaphors rule!) and through all of that the opportunity for useful conversation.
Become your own Chief Simplicity Officer
In that final interview, Dan makes the case for organizations having a Chief Simplicity Officer. The value of such is captured briliantly by Oliver Wendell Holmes who said
I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity for on this side of complexity.
But I’d give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.
A CSO where you work may or may not happen. Unless of course you appoint yourself into that role and start making some changes…