Keep It Simple

A friend and colleague of mine posted on social media this week about the battle he had fixing his dryer (I should note that he proclaims that he is a “recovering engineer”). He dove into YouTube to find the “how to’s,” opened up panels, took the machine apart, checked sensors, tested circuits, and did basically everything that his engineer mind (and YouTube) suggested, to no avail. Then he checked the breaker box, found a tripped breaker, reset it, and all was good. Did it make for a funny Facebook post? Yes? Is it indicative of a larger lesson? Absolutely.

We all know the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), but following that advice can be hard. We tend to overcomplicate things in order to get them done. We spool up problems unnecessarily and add steps and layers of redundancy all in the name of procedure, when in reality the easy solution might have been the best. Here are tips to avoiding that urge to overcomplicate:

Start with the obvious

Oftentimes, the easy, simple fix is the one that solves the problem (case in point, my friend the dryer expert). When you call your cable company because your internet connection is down, the first prompt you hear (before even talking to anyone) is an automated message asking you to turn your modem on and off to see if that fixes the problem). I have an HVAC client who instructs his technicians to check that the thermostat is on, the furnace is on, the filter is clean, and the gas is turned on before running any diagnostics. Oftentimes, one of those four steps will solve the issue outright, an even when they do not, they can help illuminate the path to a solution. The obvious fix does not always solve the issue, but eliminating those simple fixes can help to narrow down and identify the cause of the problem.

Take a breath

When you are faced with a challenging problem or a frustrating situation, the first thing you should do is. . . . calm down. Take it slowly. Think about the problem in front of you, rather than rushing headlong into a solution. Think back in your history. Has this issue happened before? If so, what did you do to solve it, and try that first (that’s right, going back to step one again) before attempting a new solution? When my clients and I are working through the constraints in their businesses, we rarely act right away (even if we do find a solution that would work). Instead, we ask more questions, talk things through, and peel back the onion a bit more to make sure that we have not just the right solution, but the right plan to execute that solution.

Avoid the Law of Complexity

In his book Focal Point, Brian Tracy lays out his version of the Law of Complexity, as it relates to processes and procedures. Tracy’s Law of Complexity states that “. . . . the level of complexity in any task is equal to the square of the number of different steps in that task.” Complexity, in this case, is defined as “. . . . the potential for increased time, increased costs, or increased mistakes.” Let’s say I have a message for my wife. If I tell her directly, there is only one step in the process; I give her the message. The complexity level is 1 (1x1). Now, let’s say that I give the message to my daughter, Maggie (she is 9, which probably makes things infinitely more complex). There are now two steps in the process, and more potential for mistakes, so our complexity level is 4 (2x2). Finally, if Maggie passes the message to my son Jack and asks HIM to get the message to Mom, we’ve added a 3rd step, and our complexity level has jumped to 9 (3x3). Redundancy and additional, unneeded steps have turned this into a game of telephone, and we all know how that ends. Had I simply delivered the message directly, the process would finish quickly and efficiently, with very little risk of mistakes. If a simple message can get that complicated that quickly, think about the potential for mistakes in the more complex business processes we create.

As the old doctor joke goes, a man walks into the doctor’s office and says “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor says “Don’t do that.” If your processes are hurting, perhaps it is time to eliminate or streamline them. Look for the simple, obvious solution first. Take your time to think things through, and fall back on history to find solutions. Avoid the complex, as complexity can lead to mistakes. Keep It Simple. . . . Smarty.


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