Selling simplicity

Customers buy expertise for a reason; it fills a gap they can’t fill themselves. As an expert, one of your superpowers is pattern recognition, and the ability to simplify complex issues for your customers. Through many years of learning, doing and reviewing what you do, you’ve built a valuable frame of reference that helps you to see things that your customers simply can’t see for themselves.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

More recently, Lisa Bodell, author of Why Simple Wins, lays out a compelling case for reducing complexity in the way that modern organisations work.

Complexity, she says, is a monster that is killing our ability to innovate and adapt. Because we are constantly knocked around by disruption, it’s becoming much more tempting and destructive for companies to add more and more, without sweeping away what’s no longer useful. This then becomes a huge drain on competitiveness.

Bodell cites an initiative by the Boston Consulting Group to track complexity by building an index based on surveys of more than 100 companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

What they found is both eye-opening and terrifying.

Over the last decade and a half, the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies and decision approvals needed in each of those companies had increased by anywhere from 50% to 350%. Extrapolating this over a longer time horizon, BCG found that complexity had actually increased by an overall average of 6.7% a year over the past 50 years.

Not surprisingly, complexity is also damaging organisational performance. Recently, SAP’s Global Simplicity Index found that complexity destroys a full tenth of company profits each year – or a combined $237 billion for the top 200 firms around the world.

Simplicity is the antidote to complexity.

When you’re pitching to a customer, make sure you value your ability to simplify things, to see the big picture, to flex and stretch, and to cut through their mental clutter.

Your ability to synthesise and make sense of a huge amount of information, and to find the holes, gaps and opportunities that will reduce complexity in their organisation, is work that your customer doesn’t have to do themselves – and that you should be rewarded for.