Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reduce Problems to Their Simplest Form

I recently brought together a large group of teachers and administrators who struggled with a problem. The issue sounded complex; we spent about 15 minutes just trying to put our fingers on what it was we were really upset about. In reality it was a very basic issue. Some around the table were taken aback when I reduced the concern brought to my attention to a two-sentence description. They were expecting a detailed explanation of what was going on, but I provided everyone with the bottom-line we needed to address. I then announced, in the simplest and most straightforward terms, the goals for the meeting.

Some of the most effective leaders have focused on simplicity to get things done. Walter Isaacson describes Steve Jobs' zen approach to everything he did at Apple Computer. In fact, he turned around the company upon return from his ouster in 1997 by corralling all of the different projects the flailing corporation had in motion. He examined Apple's "complex" problem and forced his employees to focus on the rudiments...the few things that they could build upon. Needless to say, Jobs' approach proved very successful.

I don't see why all problems can't be watered down into simple statements. Simply described problems will likely lead to simpler solutions that can be dealt with in highly manageable ways. The Harvard Business Review's solution for "getting people to solve problems..." suggests using a set of "simple yet powerful principles," echoing the need to "[find] a better way to manage complexity." (click here for the complete article).

One has only to look to the success of another corporate giant - J.P. Morgan - to recognize the magnitude of simplicity when he said, "No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking."

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