The issue of simplicity vs. complexity is, well, complicated. In business, simplicity and brevity are usually greatly preferred, but in marketing trying to get your message into a few words sometimes doesn’t work as well as longer text. For example, some of the most effective direct sales letters are lengthy, running many pages long. Longer product descriptions can outperform short ones. An interesting little test conducted by FutureNow and described by Anne Holland shows that when it comes to guarantees, simple may be best.
The ongoing tragedy of BP’s well disaster makes me both sad and mad at the same time, and I’ve been trying to think if there is anything useful to learn from this difficult situation. As I’ve been reading about the tragedy, I think there are at least three things that leaders who are performing large scale innovations can learn from.
When it comes to products, “complicated” is rarely a compliment. Would you buy a computer advertised as “complicated?” A piece of furniture that claimed, “complex assembly required?” An automobile that promoted the fact that it had a complicated fuel injection system?
There was something about AOL's decision to sell or close Bebo that had an air of sad predictability about it. Digital start-ups, particularly those based on social technology, often seem to struggle once acquired by a large media interest. Friends Reunited was sold by ITV for less than a sixth of the price they paid for it a few years earlier.
I think there is a lot more to this discussion, more than about “just making things simple and easy to use”. Why are some objects simple and easy to use but end up limited and boring? Why are some objects, like the iPhone, simple to use but somehow able to have many layers of more complex functions? Is this what they call simplexity, or an “emerging theory that proposes a possible complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity”? (via Wikipedia)
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.
One of my most gratifying but ultimately unsuccessful work assignments was to create an offering to open up an attractive new market segment. It was gratifying because many things went well–we developed a strong brand, quickly took up a position of authority and insight, and sold several important deals.
In trying to talk to companies about using narrative techniques and other ways to mine the non-quantitative data they have but never make use of, especially for strategy and innovation, this post from Dave Snowden will be a significant asset.