Today's Reading

If you're seeking to simplify vast, wide-ranging, overly complex processes, then approaches such as these are good options. But what about areas of work that aren't so large? What if you don't have big budgets to roll out established change methodologies and train teams on their implementation? What if you need an ongoing way to improve general work issues or habits?

As useful as they are, Lean Six Sigma and the like proceed from the notion that a formal process is always the most efficient way to get something done. Yet some very basic but important areas of simplification—meetings, e-mail, reports, conference calls—don't need very formal, multistep processes to manage them. In fact, applying a stringent process when trying to simplify these areas can often make things more complicated, not less. To make headway, companies and individuals need simple tools to quickly eradicate the mundane, unnecessary, or redundant work that stymies us—tools that don't require a twelve-step program or weeks to roll out, and that don't involve a complicated training manual or certification course.

Looking around for these tools, we found that they didn't exist. So we created them. These tools will do a number of things: they'll help you become aware that you have a complexity problem, identify areas to simplify, prioritize the items to work on, execute on the simplification, and make simplicity a habit. Ultimately, they'll help you escape the complexity trap and get to work that matters.

I'll begin the book by reviewing the problem of complexity, explaining where it comes from and casting light on what is all too frequently lost: work that matters. In the book's second half, I offer tools as well as advice for both senior leaders and more junior people in organizations who wish to simplify. I conclude the book with the inspiring and instructive story of an unlikely, regulated organization that embarked on a simplification journey and, after some twists and turns, wound up reaping significant benefits.

Simplification is one of the most underutilized skills out there, but it's also a skill that any of us can cultivate and deploy. And we must cultivate it. In our age of complexity, simplicity is one of the most powerful ways to add value and stand above all the mediocrity and complacency. By simplifying, we can make our organizations more dynamic, innovative, and profitable, transforming them into places where people feel more fulfilled and productive. We can redefine work, departing from traditional norms and processes that at one time might have helped but today only hold us back. And we can make our workplaces more civil, respecting the time and effort people contribute by wasting less of them.

On so many levels, simplification is the right thing to do—for our customers, for our colleagues, for ourselves. Complexity, in other words, is a losing proposition—-it's simplicity that wins. This book will show you how to make simplicity win for you.

 
CHAPTER ONE
Creating the Monster

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."
—Confucius

It's our most precious resource. More precious than anything else. I'm talking about time. When you've lost an hour, it's gone forever.

Given how precious time is, you would think we would be more deliberate, both as individuals and as organizations, about how we use it. But we're not.

Step back for a second, and set aside all the things you "need" to do today—all the meetings, all the e-mails, all the phone calls, all the bureaucratic forms and processes that require your attention. Imagine for a moment that you could spend the day investing your work time in anything you wanted. What would you do? You would probably choose to work on things that really matter. You would solve big problems, think strategically about how to get ahead of the competition, help brainstorm your company's next innovation.

Imagine what that would feel like—how satisfying it would be to know, when your head hit the pillow, that you had maximized the opportunities you had to learn something new and make a real, discernible contribution at your job. Compare that satisfaction to what you actually experience at the end of each day. The sense that, for too much of the day, you're just spinning your wheels. That you're deluged with work, but constantly struggling to get important things done. That you're juggling a hundred balls but still failing to make the meaningful impact you 'could' make if the (busy? mundane? meaningless?) work that eats up so much of your day could magically vanish.

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY

Not long ago, if you asked people how they were doing, they'd say, "Good!" A few years later the standard answer became, "Okay." Today, a new answer is the norm: "BUSY." We've made a sport of talking about how busy we are. We compete to be the busiest person in any conversation. "I'm so busy!" is always met with "Tell me about it. My day was crazy. All I did was sit in meetings and put out fires." "That's nothing! I had a conference call that started at 7 a.m. and then..."
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