Simple is better

October 22, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

I was flying home from Chicago last Wednesday enjoying my first-class upgrade. Across the aisle and one row up, was a sharp looking businessman working away on a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not in the habit of watching other people’s computer screens, but this one grabbed my attention. I could not read the words, but the slide layouts are what got me. Every slide was loaded with details in boxes with arrows and callouts. There were multiple slides exploding on each level of a massive organization chart. There were complex graphs loaded with text. And as he scrolled through the slide deck, that presentation had to be at least 80 slides long. I thought to myself, “This guy is methodically preparing to bore a room full of innocent people to death.”

Today’s MMWU is not about the evils of complicated, overstuffed, PowerPoint presentations; it is about keeping things simple. If you need 80 slides to deliver your idea or concept, than it is not ready for primetime. If you create a new system or procedure for employees to follow that is overly complex, the chances of getting that new system or procedure to stick are pretty slim. If your marketing message is longwinded, potential customers will stop listening. If performance reviews are conducted from a document the thickness of War and Peace, you will never address the real issues that need attention – or give kudos to worthy accomplishments.

Our work lives are complicated enough. Complicated stuff is stressful, and who wants or needs more stress these days? Here are some no-compromise strategies to embed “simple is better” thinking in your company:

  • Distill it until it’s pure: All great ideas and concepts can be distilled into something simple and beautiful that almost anyone can understand. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod, he said, “It holds a thousand songs and fits in your pocket.” Jobs was a master at hitting the two or three points to explain something totally new. No matter how complex the technology, simplicity and ease of use are core values at Apple. Take the time to boil away the weight and fluff from your ideas and concepts until they are simple and pure – and easy for everyone to digest.
  • Think Tweet: Twitter users communicate ideas and concepts in 140 characters. With practice, it is amazing just how effectively you can share a thought in such limited space. The key is thinking your message through to what matters most.
  • Respect your audience: It takes time to build a presentation or meeting agenda. Professional keynote speakers work hard at polishing and perfecting their presentations. You have been to enough conferences to know the difference between a professional presentation and one where the speaker reads from notes or off PowerPoint slides. You have also been in meetings that never got to the point or solved anything. Delivering a speech or leading a meeting demands a level of respect for your audience to be organized and on task. Otherwise, you have just been wasting everyone’s time. So take the time to prepare a simple format and simple message that everyone will appreciate.
  • Team innovation: The power of team is extraordinary. But the creative process that discovers and distills ideas and concepts into something simple and comprehensible can get derailed when too many “innovators” are involved in the process. Depending on the magnitude of the project, it is often better to keep innovation teams small. Two to four people can create and distill a lot of great ideas and concepts into something powerful. Every additional person is another voice and point of view that can slow progress. When assigning groups of people to innovate new ideas and concepts, it also pays to keep the size of the team simple too.
  • PowerPoint can de-power: OK, I need to wrap this up where I started. My best speeches are done without PowerPoint slides. When I use PowerPoint, I put one big thought on a slide. PowerPoint is great for charts, but I even work hard to keep charts simple. Too much text or complicated charts and graphs shifts attention to the screen and away from the speaker. It de-powers the speaker. After a while, the audience starts reading the slides to get to the point the speaker never makes. If slides tell the entire story, who needs the speaker?

Simple is better because simple hits the mark faster than complicated. The secret to achieving simple is taking the time and doing the work to achieve it. No Compromise.

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Categories: Business Builders , Information Flow , Leadership , Monday Morning Wake-Up , No-Compromise Leadership

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  1. As usual, Neil, you are so very right. Simple is better – and really the only way to communicate effectively.

    P.S. I heard you speak at the PAII Conference in Hyannis, MA, last Spring, and bought the NCL book. Although I’d read some of it, I’ve recently been delving deeper and am implementing lots of changes to my leadership style. Thanks so much!

  2. In the many years that I have followed your advice in the Monday Morning Wake Up….I never fail to take something from it and use right away. I am a much more efficient, successful, and No Compromise Leader because of it! Thank you Neil!


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