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  • Writer's pictureSebastian H.

Simple is not easy

“Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” – Pete Seeger

Simple is not easy. In fact, simple is hard and, frustratingly, simplicity is an essential ingredient in virtually every aspect of our internal and external lives; and, not surprisingly, simplicity reverberates throughout business, design, and communication.

Simplicity is what remains after we, as Bruce Lee put it, “hack away at the inessentials.” For product management and marketing, we have to ask ourselves how much “hacking” is enough? It is important to appreciate that this has nothing to do with what you’re planning to build (at all) and has everything to do with your market’s tolerance for complexity (the opposite of simplicity).

I’ve used the following example for years, both to keep me on track and to explain the practical implications of simplicity in product and market categories.

A consumer smoke detector is more sophisticated than a commercial sprinkler system because it must be.

People typically have two issues with the above statement.

  1. First, commercial sprinkler systems do so much more than a smoke detector; a smoke detector cannot hold a candle to a sprinkler system! (bad pun intended)

  2. Second, there is no identifiable market force mandating greater investments in more rudimentary and, arguably, less critical products. (note the use of “rudimentary” which is not a synonym for simple)

When compared to a commercial sprinkler system, a smoke detector has a much higher bar to hit regarding simplicity, lower price point, reduced maintenance overhead, etc.

Smoke detectors are simple to own and operate – not because they solve a simple problem – smoke detectors have to be made simple before they could be brought to market because, given the nature of the benefits they offer, they simply had to be nearly invisible and hassle-free with a price-point that is a minuscule fraction of the asset it protects. Otherwise, customers would simply opt to do without.

If only it were that simple

The example above works because most everyone has a general idea of what smoke detectors and sprinkler systems do and how they are sold and priced; at least relative to one another. ...but making things simple (enough) is not simple.

  • What Benefit and Product properties are right for development tools? Investment software? …

  • How does “Business value” shift these relationships? (note that neither examples above have “business value”)

  • How are these concepts measured and communicated?

The answers to these questions are more suited for a book not a blog; but knowing what questions to ask is a start.

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