The Power of the Simple

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The Goal of Simplicity

Whether it’s design or instructions, we want things simple—not too simple to the point of insulting, but not too complex and thus confusing. What starts as an admirable goal – simplicity – is actually not a simple subject.

 

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” -Thoreau

 

Dan Ward’s latest book, The Simplicity Cycle: A Field Guide To Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse, aims to help people make good decisions about complexity. After retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel from the US Air Force where he served for 20 years as an acquisition officer, Dan launched his own consulting firm. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dan about the not-so-simple subject of simplicity.

 

Why Simplicity Matters

Define simplicity and tell us why it’s so important and a passion for you.

Simplicity is an ironically complex topic, and it means different things in different contexts. In a general sense, something is simple when it does not have a lot of interconnected parts. Of course, the definition of “a lot” changes depending on whether we’re talking about a spacecraft or a pencil sharpener. I write about both of those.

 

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” -Confucius

 

Simplicity matters because it has such a big effect on us, our technologies, and our ability to communicate. When it’s done well, simplicity makes communication clearer. It makes our technologies easier to use and more reliable. But when it’s done badly, simplicity can actually make things more confusing and harder to use, so it’s important to figure out how to do it well. Ultimately, that’s the point of the book.

 

Why We Overcomplicate

What Type of Leader Are You?

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Know Thyself

The ancient Greeks had a saying, “Know thyself.”  Carved above the entrance to the main temple at Delphi, ancient philosophers including Socrates and Plato taught the importance of introspection.

If you aspire to make an impact, to lead others, or to create change, these are two words that should be an important part of your personal development. Understanding your own leadership style is critically important.

 

“The final mystery is oneself.” –Oscar Wilde

 

What’s Your Primary Style? Take Our Quiz Below

We all have a default style of leadership. You may be an autocratic leader. That means that you are more of a commander than a persuader. Or you may be more of a delegator, hiring others to handle tasks and trusting them to get it done right.

We can change our style. The combination of self-awareness and self-discipline give us the ability to change our style depending on the situation we face. We may have a default style, but all of us can learn to adjust and take on a different style when needed.

 

“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.” -Winston Churchill

 

There is no perfect ideal style. But there is an ideal style of leadership for each situation. In other words, you may need motivation in one area of your life. Motivational leadership may provide what you need to get going at the gym. “You can do it!” may motivate you. Find yourself in a crisis and that may not fly. Instead you need someone telling you what to do, in detail, with little room for alternatives.

 

“Know thyself.” -Ancient Greek Proverb

 

Knowing someone else’s primary style is as important as knowing your own. I once worked for a woman who was completely hands-off, allowing me a great deal of freedom. Another wanted to provide commands and a checklist for me to report on. If you want to get a high rating at performance time, you need to know your boss’ style. And if someone works for you, it’s even more important. You can increase the odds of success if you choose the leader who best fits a situation.

 

Leadership Style

So what is your leadership style? Take our leadership test and find out. Have people you work with take it. And it matters at home, too, so have your significant other take it. You will increase your self-awareness and begin to “Know thyself.”

It’s Never Too Late to Start

This week, I read an article in the Washington Post about a 100 year old scientist who fought for decades against trans fat.  Trans fat lowers good cholesterol and increases bad.  It clogs the arteries and many consider it a poison.  Enter Fred Kummerow who discovered its dangers in the 1950’s.  After trying for decades to warn the public, he sued the FDA in 2013.  Now the FDA is working to eliminate trans fat from the food supply.

 

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

 

It’s yet another proof point that you can make a difference at any age.

Infographic compliments of Richard Madison of Brighton School of Business & Management. Infographic compliments of Richard Madison of Brighton School of Business & Management.

What a great reminder to not allow obstacles to stop us from achieving our dreams.  As Ken Blanchard reminds us, don’t retire, refire!

 

“Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams last forever.” –Walt Disney

 

Whatever Your Past, You Can Write A New Ending To Your Story

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Rewrite Your Story

I remember her sitting on the couch, telling her story. My mom was listening, nodding her head and taking it in. This woman had a tough life and she recounted stories of abuse, of hurt, of neglect. My presence barely registered as she poured out her pain. Only a few, carefully chosen questions, that was all it took from mom. Like a skilled surgeon piercing infected skin, she used a question like a scalpel, surgically timed and designed to alleviate pain.

 

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” -Shakespeare

 

It’s funny how I can recall the room so clearly now: the curtains and wallpaper in the room, the sofas, the layout, the piano nestled in the corner. It’s all etched in my memory. Also etched in my memory is the story. It was different from others, sure, but in so many ways it was the same.

My family took people in; mostly people in trouble; people in need; people with histories, pain, and shame. Though we were not the wealthiest in the world, there was always room for one more at the table. Some came for a single meal while others would stay for years.

As I listened to the particulars of this woman’s story, I felt for her. You couldn’t help but be affected as you heard the details.

I learned some lessons:

  • Pain can be used as a powerful force for good.
  • We don’t have to keep re-reading that chapter.
  • We can turn the page.
  • We can welcome new characters, new narratives, and new opportunities.
  • We can write the ending.
  • We can create a story worth living, one that can inspire others.

 

“Your life’s best chapters are ahead of you. Turn the page with great expectation.” -Skip Prichard

 

You say, “Skip, I didn’t have that kind of life. I didn’t have abuse or pain. Life was normal.”

How Much Time Do You Spend Doing Shadow Work?

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Time, Money and Productivity

 

How do you feel about bagging your own groceries?

You do put the grocery cart back in the parking lot, right?

Pump your own gas?

Do you book your own travel?

 

I do all of this. And I never gave it a moment’s thought. That is until I read Craig Lambert’s new book Shadow WorkThe Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day. Businesses have somehow shifted the model, moving work from them to us without us even knowing. How this happened and its implications are fascinating.

I spoke with Craig about his observations about the fascinating world of what he calls “shadow work.” Craig served as a staff writer and editor at Harvard Magazine for more than two decades.

Are You Unknowingly Working for Someone Else?

 

Define this new term for us: shadow work.

Copyright Jim Harrison; Used by Permission Copyright Jim Harrison; Used by Permission

Shadow work includes all the unpaid jobs we do on behalf of businesses and organizations.
Once you define it and explain, it seems so obvious. It makes a light bulb come on. What made you aware of this concept and decide to write about it?

One night while waiting in line to check out at the supermarket, I noticed an attorney I knew slightly, about twenty feet away. She was a senior partner in a downtown firm, definitely earning a big paycheck—well into the six figures. Yet there she was, scanning and bagging groceries. She was doing this at a self-serve checkout, for her own groceries, of course. Yet she was still doing an entry-level job, one that pays around the minimum wage. And she wasn’t even getting the minimum wage; she was getting nothing at all, working for free. This was the first instance I’d noticed of what I’ve come to call “middle-class serfdom.”

I started thinking about other places where the consumer is working for free, often doing jobs that used to be done by a paid employee. I realized that there are many examples of this, most of which have appeared in recent decades. And that the phenomenon is growing. I started to see that there was a broad social trend afoot, and that “shadow work” was an apt name for it.

 

Shadow work is the unpaid work we do for businesses.