Leadership Cancers #5: Simplemindedness

by Gary Monti on April 13, 2010

Have you ever nailed something? I mean, you got it down to a few simple keystrokes or a few lines in a paragraph. How sublime is the feeling of accomplishment? All the effort seems worth it when the faces of those who use your brainchild say, “Yes, this is it!”

On the flip side have you ever created a train wreck of a solution? One so clunky you’d like to just shoot it and put it out of its misery? Or have you ever had a customer say, “All you have to do is…” and you start wondering what she was smoking for lunch?

The differences between getting it just right and failing miserably can sometimes be reduced to two words – simple vs simpleminded. The two seem to sit very close to each other and may be hard to distinguish. Let’s take a look at them and examine the boundary between the two.

DaVinci, Simplicity, and Telephones

As mentioned in the first post in this series, DaVinci summed it well:

The sophistication is reflected in the simplicity.

A client’s VP of Sales, when talking about what comprises a successful product, said it in today’s terms, “The product should be so simple that my grandmother can use it without reading the instructions.” It is referring to what is sometimes called seamless performance. In other words, the product performs so well and delivers such high quality results it actually disappears. Landlines are a good example. When I pick up a good old-fashioned, copper-wired phone my minds eye is focused on the person I am calling and the call itself. The phone literally disappears from my consciousness. That is simple.

When I use my cell phone…well…that is another story. There is just a touch of stress, barely perceptible that is saying, “I wonder if this will go through and if it does what are the odds it could drop out?” It’s ever so subtle but it is there.  If you don’t think this is true for you try making this simple observation the next time you want to make a small, important call to someone about whom you care. Pay attention to your feelings when it can’t get through or is dropped as you are ready to breathe out and talk. Is it frustrating? Do you feel disappointed? Where does anger fit?


So where does simplemindedness fit into all this? To answer this let’s go back to “simple.” When something is truly simple it means all the principles and disciplines required are present and combined in a balanced manner to create a product that performs as expected. For simplemindedness to be present all that is required is to leave out a principle, have some principle inadequately represented, or have the relationship between design elements be off balance.  It’s that simple! Sticking with cell phones, battery life and bandwidth represent the second and third situation, respectively.

What’s the Answer?

If we pick up the cell phone situation and bring it over to the realm of relationships with clients, peers, vendors and other stakeholders there is a way to keep simplemindness out of the relationships and subsequently the product. Know the disciplines, principle, and balance between them that is required to move from customer need to functional specification to design specification to production. With this information you are forearmed and prepared to fend off the “all you have to do…” declarations that key stakeholders may make. You can push back in a very sane manner that is business-like and respectful.

Share you comments! I’d like to know what you think. In addition to commenting on this post you can also send a response via e-mail to gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.

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