Some 1,420,000,000 websites are online according to current estimates (summer 2018). And more are added every day. The global increase in knowledge, information and data is bigger than ever before in human history. And the earth is currently populated with more scientists, researchers and engineers today than have ever lived before! We experience these effects every day. The inflow of business options has become exorbitant.
Online marketplaces like Amazon have grown to become giants today, having more than 229 million products on stock (as of 2016). Or the Alibaba Group in the Asian regions, which has generated USD 10bn in one hour at the Singles Day in 2018. These companies spend over USD 10bn p. a. for research and development, more than any other company from the old economy.
Whether technological developments, innovations or new market services, news and novelties are changing by the millisecond. This leads to incredible dynamics and thus changes. The growing desire for continuity and stability on part of the customer therefore does not come as a surprise. For there is a wealth of offers in private and business areas, which mankind simply can’t overlook anymore. This increase in complexity and intricacy eventually leads to the human desire for simplicity and easiness – both in private and business life.
As a counter-trend to these widespread environmental developments, people often search for solutions in the other extreme, namely minimalism. The absolute and omnipresent solution and answer to difficult questions is in focus here. Minimalism is colloquially associated with the term of simplicity (the less the better). As a state which is regarded as perfect, brilliant and graceful.
This may well be a personal and meaningful answer to this development in private life. But it does not have the same meaning in a business environment. It is not a matter of a person’s own focus, but rather addresses customers, users, offers, processes, communication or structures which have to be designed, and which are embedded in the collaboration and organization of people. All this requires a completely different fundamental understanding of how to face this challenge.
First off, simplicity in a business environment is no absolute dimension. It can always be considered relative to the respective industry. Simplicity in a banking environment is not the same as in retail or in a hospital. There are different rules, standards and requirements. The customers’ level of knowledge regarding proposals and processes or priorities is also different. It isn’t about the person itself, who defines simplicity for itself, but rather about arrangements for others! This is one of the biggest tasks to deal with. Current discussions are centered around new leadership approaches and a new customer understanding in the economy, as can be observed, for instance in the topic of agility.
Companies do not clearly define the term simplicity. This is one of the central problems. But what is “simple”? How can we reduce it to a common denominator? If we would ask ten people in the IT departments of ten different companies, whether the software structure of a particular IT system is “simple”, this would most likely result in ten different answers. How can this be explained?
Taking a sober view of the term “simple” and its colloquial use, this is an evaluation, namely a personal evaluation, which depends on a person’s or a group of persons’ experience, degree of knowledge and individual assessment. It reflects what this person or group thinks and believes. Therefore, it is essential to know your customers and their needs and perceptions very well.
For this reason, the term “simplicity” is very conflictual and yet is often confused with right or wrong. If someone said that it is not easy, this would be just as true as if someone said that it is easy for them. There is no one single truth like we are always searching for. This must be accepted first.
If a group has the same basic understanding about a situation, has the same experience, and is living and decides according to the same values and behavior patterns, it can be assumed that they will make a similar evaluation.
In a nutshell, simplicity is an individual evaluation, which is person- and subject-specific and which is constantly being developed. There is no fundamental right or wrong.
An example: While flights could only be booked by specialized persons in travel agencies 15 years ago, it can be done at home by anyone today who has a credit card and access to the internet. Companies therefore should seek to define the term “simplicity” with a focus on the user and should closely monitor its development so as not to miss the boat. After all, simplicity is also a value proposition which is given from a user’s point of view!
The big advantage of simplicity is the impact it can achieve. When an organization can protect the user or customer from a high degree of complexity or intricacy, it has a central competitive advantage. This confidence and binding character must be established and cultivated. This will be awarded by the strong loyalty of the customer and also of the associates to the company itself.
Current studies of the so-called global brand simplicity index from Siegel & Gale also reveal the true value of simplicity. For instance, 63 % of customers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences. But even more vital is that 69 % of customers actively recommend a brand because it is simple and that the share price of these simple companies outperforms the stock market indices many times over. Conversely, it can be observed that customers deliberately decide not to invest because they consider it too complicated, even though they would have the funds to do so! Therefore, billions of euros in Germany are not being spent.
Conclusion: Simplicity is no tool and no method either. It is a shared entrepreneurial attitude. It is ingrained in our way of thinking, in the way we act and decide. It continues to develop in line with a common understanding and the respective priorities which are applied in a company. The individuality of the applied and designed simplicity has become so engraved that it can’t be copied.
Hence the management of an organization determines whether simple brands are realized, simple processes institutionalized, or simple structures are set up. It can be noticed by the clear feedback of associates and customers. You may want to pay more attention to this going forward. For customers love simplicity.
Following studies in mechanical engineering in Stuttgart, Michael Hartschen received his PhD in innovation management from the Zurich Technical College (ETH) and finally discovered his liking for simplicity. He works as an entrepreneur, coach, trainer and presenter in the field of simplicity, innovation and business development and has many years of experience gained in a diversity of industries.
In 1998, he established his first company and in 2001, obtained his first lectureship at today’s Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). He is author of various books and specialist articles.