Today at the Five Friends Business Summit, I talked about Sir Peter Blake leading Team New Zealand to successive victories in the America’s Cup yacht competition in 1995 and 2000. The key to this success was that Blake focused the team on one question which they asked about every thing that they did. The question was simply this: “Will it make the boat go faster?”
One of my clients is a national trucking company. This is a business that involves logistics, systems, schedules, and details that could easily become overwhelmingly complicated. Yet this trucking company, which is one of the largest in the country, has harnessed the power of simplicity and focus to drive consistent success for years.
One of my clients, the CEO of an international agriculture business, said, “The price we pay for making things too complicated is immeasurable. It slows us down, makes for bad decisions, and scatters our efforts.” Indeed. Think about those three parts of the “price we pay” for making things too complicated:
Thinking about the power of the sun’s rays when focused brings to mind another powerful metaphor about focus that has practical application for all of us. Imagine that you are trying to cut your way through a wall made of solid steel.
How do we determine what is most important? Begin with the basics. Begin with the fundamentals. The reality is that if you succeed at the basics, you succeed in life.
Don’t get me wrong, I will still go to Starbucks for a regular cup of coffee. I like them a lot. But…..my favorite coffee drink at Starbucks has been the Flat White. Today in Whole Foods I had their Flat White. It was better. A lot better. (To me, at least. What you like in coffee is obviously subjective.)
The incredible power of simplicity begins with focus. It begins with the answer to a very simple question: What is most important? Interestingly enough, very few people ever give careful thought to deciding what is really most important in their work or their lives. Most of us simply show up and go to work on whatever is in front of us or whatever pops up during the day.
I work with all kinds and sizes of businesses and it’s fascinating to see the commonalities among those that are doing well, and among those that are struggling. People in a struggling business are likely to say, “You have to understand that this is a very complicated business.” People in a successful business will usually say, “You know, at the end of the day, this is really a pretty simple business.”
“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. 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.” – Steve Jobs. I love the words that Steve Jobs chose: “get your thinking clean to make it simple.” That’s no easy task.
When we have unlimited choices, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Not really. In 2000, Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University conducted a legendary marketing study on the effect of too many choices. What she did was set up a display of jams outside a grocery store in Menlo Park, California. She rotated the display between having 6 flavors to choose from and 24 flavors to choose from.