El·e·gant, an adjective and defined or characterized by or exhibiting refined, tasteful beauty of manner, form, or style. Mark Jacob? Chanel? Jil Sander? Hermes? All are elegant by design. What about Amazon Kindle? Apple iPhone? Or GE? Or P&G? Are they elegant? It is a word reserved for the design world.
That world likes to use words such as “elegant”, “simple” and “user friendly”, many designers understand how to subtract in creating simple and elegant design solutions. Human factors usually substract more than add. Good designers take away complexity in objects or interfaces. Can business learn from this design principle? Can a business strategy be “elegant”? Or can a particular management style be described as “elegant”?
Anything elegant is often simple; not everything simple is elegant. Everything simple is often user friendly, not everything simple is user friendly. Sometimes complexity is needed. Simplicity has different meanings. Good businesses need to be simple and easy to understand, and that’s the investment criteria for Warren Buffet. Businesses are getting too complex these days and most executives let alone the CEO know all the moving pieces and have an idea of their risk exposure. And some rely on SAP to manage the enterprise and that’s unrealistic.
There are many different kinds of simplicity, sometimes in form and sometimes in function or both. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Elegance is “far side” simplicity that is emotionally engaging, profoundly intelligent, and artfully crafted to be two things at once: simple and powerful. Why elegance? Is it an elusive target? Is it only applicable to design?
Are there always simple answers to even the most wicked problems? Do we have to reduce complexity so we can understand it or do we need complex solutions to solve complex problems? Scientists, engineers, mathematicians, system thinkers, economists research for theories hoping to explain highly complex phenomena in simple ways.
Business executives and strategists are dealing with more and more complex business models. I don’t think that a simpler solution is necessarily superior to a complex one. If you consider a particular business as a system, the business model corresponds pretty exactly to the function of that system. The business in operation is a combination of architecture, function and performance. As with many complex systems, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the three.
A business model includes the raw function of what we (economists) refer to as its "industry" (it's a bank or a retail chain or a newspaper, for example), but can also include particular ways of operating the raw function (a branchless bank or low-cost airline, a discount retailer or free online social network, for example). Thus the business model "function" can shade into "performance" when particular approaches to types of customer, levels of service and brand ethos are considered. The architectural side of the business model is how the core components are stack together and that impacts the function as well as the performance. It can be simple and elegant, and can be complex and elegant.
Elegant doesn’t have to simple.