“Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated.  It is hard to make something simple.”   Richard Branson

Within your organization and family, do you ever want to throw up your hands, exasperated by the complexity of just about everything of importance? Does it seem at times that those surrounding us make things more complicated than necessary?  Perhaps even on purpose? Confucius, the great Chinese teacher and philosopher, commented on such frustrations when he said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. “

On the surface, it would seem that making something simple would take less time and would be more easily accomplished. Successful and well-known English business magnate, Richard Branson, was not the only person learning that any significant simplistic achievement is tough. American information technology entrepreneur and inventor, Steve Jobs, once stated that, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Is it possible that we might be missing the real reason behind brevity?  If we save time and yet do not convey understanding, there is no progress. We may appreciate the fact that a certain meeting did not interfere with the rest of our day, or that we have more time to waste, but we are no longer further down the road toward success.

In an article for Inc. Magazine, Gordon Tredgold offered this instruction: “The simpler we can explain things, the more people we can have involved in the implementation.”  When more people are involved, who also have a good understanding of the mission (because it is simple), the goal is easier to accomplish. And, early completion is a welcome reward, but only if the results are outstanding.

A short meeting without progress is less frustrating than a long meeting without progress. But, the result is the same — frustration.  We need and want progress. Brevity can be the path, but it is not easy, as supported by the very successful achievers, Branson and Jobs.

How can we solve the element of frustration? The answer is actually simple – too simple. But, it works. I know, because I continue to struggle in this area, yet continue to make notable progress.

The initial editions of this newsletter were often 1,000 words or longer, and I received counsel from several readers whom I respect, to shorten my weekly commentary. My wife Carol, one of my editors, complained often that I was a little verbose. I have made a concerted effort to modify my approach. Now, all of my editions are less than 1,000 – generally 500 to 700 words. This edition is 745 words. Mission accomplished!

Writing shorter editions is not easy. It takes more time and discipline.  I am always cutting out sentences and paragraphs. Rarely do I find myself adding additional thoughts. And yet, I like the improved results, especially the many favorable comments.

How can you use this insight? Easy to say and hard to do. Next time you have a conversation, cut what you say in half. Yes, I said . . . in half! When you determine to halve what you say to someone, you are going to be surprised at the results. You will end up using the most powerful form of communication mastered by great leaders: effective listening.  Say less, but say it in a more powerful way. It takes practice to do this well. Be willing to invest time. You will love the potential results, such as:

  • You will create more comprehension.
  • Others will want to hear what you have to say.
  • Others will follow you.
  • You will become a better leader – a person of influence.
  • You will accomplish more, not less.

This is a work in progress for me. But, I love this effort and the results I see so far.

When was the last time you said something in less than 10 words that turned out to be very powerful and effective? In just eight words, President John Kennedy said, “We will put a man on the moon.” It was simple and effective. Brief and powerful. Even though he did not live to see the outcome of his dream, his words lived on.

Keep it simple. Be brief. Create comprehension. Increase effectiveness. Become a better leader.

Today, in a few brief and powerful words, I will . . .