Why simple is the goal
Mark Twain once said “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”. The point being that being concise takes time. Later a Hollywood script writer told me “Great scripts aren’t written, they are re-written”. Again the point being that we don’t always do our best work first go. While I understood this, I wasn’t sure how this related to communicating within an organisation.
Then one day I was asked to help out with some safety communications:
Kate: “We have a challenging safety record, too many people are getting hurt. Now we are under pressure now to fix it.”
Mark: “How do people know they are being safe?”
Kate: “We have lots of procedures and processes but people don’t follow them. As a result they are getting hurt.”
Mark: “How many is a lot?”
Kate: “I put it all together. There are 85 slides and 127 actions people are expected to do on a daily basis.”
What became clear was that people were overloaded with information and if everything is important, then nothing is important.
In order to communicate effectively, there are 3 stages a leader must work through:
Whenever we set out to make a change or achieve a goal something we typically start with a simplistic approach. Whether it’s planning a wedding, starting a business or developing a safety plan. We normally have an optimism bias that causes us to underestimate the complexity or amount of effort it will take to make the change. Whenever you hear the phrase “Why don’t you just…” you are in simplistic.
Once we begin what we find is complexity. The goal cannot be easily achieved and there are often competing factors at play. The guest list blows out, finding staff is a challenge, the safety plan has 127 steps. When we get stuck in complexity it can actually create more confusion and exacerbate the problem you are trying to solve. As a result, people will usually go back to simplistic and only focus on their part of the problem. Once again, the issue doesn’t get solved.
However, if you accept that complexity is necessary and you have a way to work through it, what you get to is simple. Simple is an elegant solution, it’s authentic and self-evident. Simple is an iPhone.
When communicating, if you start Simplistic people will take you to Complexity. If you start with Complexity that will go back to Simplistic. However, if you start with Simple, you can avoid the complexity and have a much better chance of achieving your goal.
By applying these principles to the safety plan, we were able to turn 84 slides in 5 and 127 actions into 21. More importantly, we were able to reduce the incidents of harm by over 50%.
As a leader you create clarity by making it Simple. If you start with simple people move quickly to acceptance and action and you might just succeed with that new business, have an amazing wedding, or make sure people make it home safely.