The way the words “simple” and “simple-minded” are used today, a simple or simple-minded person is a stupid person. You wouldn’t count on a simple person to analyze a complex situation, or creatively solve a problem. When you think simple-minded, you probably think of the kind of person who would mistake “no mayonnaise” for “extra tomatoes” and ruin your sandwich.
Simple and simple-minded don’t get a very good rap. Yet, most problems are best solved by simple solutions. Sure, you might dress a great solution up by calling it elegant, streamlined, or outside the box, but in the end, I’m betting you love it because it’s simple. It’s obvious. It makes your life easier.
I first started thinking about the often overlooked merits of simplicity while reading Linus Torvalds and David Diamond’s “Just For Fun” (a little outdated, but a good read for geeks and geeks alike). Torvalds writes “you should absolutely not dismiss simplicity for something easy. It takes design and good taste to be simple.” Whether it’s an open source operating system or the structure of human language, Torvalds continues, simplicity implies not a lack of sophistication, but the reverse. You said it, Linus.
Torvalds’ principle rings especially true for interactive marketers. Take Elliot Volkman’s post on Social Media Today about share button overload. Volkman writes “You only have a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention, and adding more widgets will create more clutter that users don’t want.” As a rule, users want simplicity, and, with most commercial and online technology, what the user wants rules.
In the information overload age, simplicity can make or break a company’s social media marketing, content marketing, and entire online presence. Cluttered websites daze and confuse visitors: the road to a high bounce rate is paved with good intentions (and excessive widgets).
Simplicity is essential for success in more than hi-tech initiatives and marketing campaigns. To demonstrate, a story: the other night, I went on a search for a dining room table. At 7 pm on a Monday, I trekked out of a client’s office in Columbia, MD, tired, hungry, and desperate (I’d been eating standing up in my unfurnished apartment). Lo and behold, what did I find in the suburban wilderness but a shopping center with both a Pier 1 Imports and a RoomStore. Let the battle begin.
First stop, Pier 1. Plates and lamps and tables and chairs and wreathes and candles and baublemajiggers on every wall, in every corner, on every foot of floor: sensory overload! A newly converted HGTV fan’s dream? Maybe on a Saturday, but not on a Monday night. I wanted a solution immediately, and that was not going to happen in this overwhelming maze of stuff. Worst of all, the tables and chairs were sold separately, not as a set, so I would have had to match them myself, and then actually do math to calculate the total cost. Math + Monday = time for a hasty retreat.
Second stop, RoomStore. Ah, deep breath. A beautifully spaced show floor with just the right amount of furniture, sold in well matched sets. Looking at these tables, I could imagine myself sitting and having a peaceful dinner in a home the way I dream it would look (in unfortunate reality, my living space has a Pier 1 level of clutter). After a quick assessment of my well organized options, and, of course, no math, I was signing the receipt, on my way to civilized eating.
Even though I probably ended up paying more than I would have at Pier1 (and definitely more than I would have at Ikea), RoomStore was the simplest solution. RoomStore won the sale that night because of simplicity. Good blogs win readers because of simplicity. Well designed websites win traffic and conversions because of simplicity. Well known quotes win fame because of simplicity. Google wins searches because of simplicity (and they know it).
Therefore, in the spirit of the waning holidays, I say “bahumbug!” to the old meaning of “simple-minded.” The most successful problem solvers are, at heart, simple-minded: they’re always in search of the simplest, cleanest solution.
So, the next time you face a complex problem, think: what would a simple-minded person do?