Is Simplicity Really the Holy Grail of Business?

When Steve Jobs was still alive and Apple was THE company, there were a lot of books published that talked about how to replicate the success of the Cupertino powerhouse.

One of the main things that seemed to be repeated was the value of simplicity.

Apple was successful because of simplification.

– For instance when Jobs returned to Apple, he eliminated a majority of the bloated product range to focus on a few blockbusters.

– The iPod was revolutionary because it eliminated all the buttons and just had the magic clickwheel.

– The iPhone just had a home button and a touch screen

So the lesson was if you want to be successful like Apple, you should simplify.

Now that the Apple fever is lifting, is simplification really as valuable as it appeared?

I think it really comes down to how you apply simplification and what you’re applying it to.

For instance, if I have five products for sale and cut back my range to one standard model, that is simplification.

But from what we know of buying psychology, introducing a more expensive variant actually increases sales of the standard model.

So in this case, two products is better than one.

In some business models where the complexity of pricing and features prevents the consumer from comparing with competitors (for example health insurance) then simplification would undermine their strategy.

And in other businesses like cars, where upsells (leather seats, mag wheels) create a lot of revenue opportunities, then simplification to one product with no variants is a bad idea.

It’s said that the Ford motor company lost its way when its offer (“Any color you want as long as it’s black”) was superseded by other companies offering cars in different colors and with other extras.

So really it comes down to these two questions:

1. Does complexity negatively affect your performance?

– Are bad things happening to your business because of the complexity of your offer.
– Are orders not being fulfilled?
– Are things not being followed up?
– Have you lost your focus?

2. Would simplification create a false sense of clarity to an inherently chaotic situation?

When complexity has created problems, it might feel tempting to think eliminating everything will make it all better. But it may not be the right answer.

If you don’t have a robust war chest, eliminating an entire product range might be too big a hit to revenue that then puts pressure on the rest of the company.

You might feel that you’ve done something revolutionary, but you’ve actually done the equivalent of lopping of an arm.

No simple solutions

The conclusion is that as much as simplicity seems appealing, there are no simple solutions. And while Apple seemed to use simplicity to its advantage under Steve Jobs, this doesn’t mean it’s something we should all be aspiring to.