Think Simple: A book review by Bob Morris

Think SimpleThink Simple: How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity
Ken Segall
Penguin/Portfolio, An Imprint of Penguin Random House (June 2016)

“Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler.” Albert Einstein

Einstein’s admonition helps to create a context for Ken Segall’s brilliant explanation of how smart leaders defeat complexity, especially now when the global marketplace seems to become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember. Complexity resembles (in my opinion) kudzu as it captures and enslaves individual lives and even entire organizations.

Seagull focuses on nine themes or dimensions of simplicity, asserting “Simplicity isn’t simple.” Rather, it is on a mission, in the air, loves a leader, is a team spirit, is true to the brand, fits all sizes, is sleeker, creates love, and is instinctive. Long ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed, “I do not care a fig about simplicity this side of complexity but would, give me life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Helping as many people as possible to get to that “other side” is why Segall wrote this book.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Segall’s coverage in Chapters 1-4:

o The Science of Simple (Pages 8-9)
o The Transformational Power of Mission (13-16)
o Finding a Mission That Scales (16-18)
o Simplicity Starts Here (23)
o Values Guider Behavior 25-29)
o Values Transcend the Product (29-32)
o Strong Values Inspire Bold Action (35-37)
o Integrity Is a Powerful Value (37-40)
o A Culture of Commitment (48-51)
o Leaders Who Empower, Not Dominate (55-57)
o Serving as Chief Uncomplicator (58-61)
o Keeping the Start-up Simple as It Grows (68-72)
o Focus Starts at the Top (72-75)
o When Leading for Simplicity Failed: The JCPenney Story (75-82)
o Brilliant Hires Are the Key (87-91)
o “People Are the Whole Ballgame” (91-96)
o “The Art of Firing” (101-103)
o Values Are an Employee Magnet (103-105)
o Simplicity Is a Group Effort (105-106)

In my opinion, some of Segall’s most valuable material is provided in the final chapter, “Finding Your Road to Simple.” He offers fifteen specific recommendations that will help his reader formulate a “road map to developing a road map — an outline of strategies to consider and actions you might take as you set out to leverage the power of simplicity.”

All of the most significant journeys that people take in life should begin well and that’s really what this chapter addresses. In fact, with only minor modifications, this same material offers wise and practical counsel to everyone who is involved in all major organizational change initiatives. “Making a company simpler typically requires steely determination, a touch of relentlessness, and marathon-like endurance. There’s only one reason why any sane leader would launch such an initiative. It’s worth it.”

Although Steve Jobs devoted his life to creating insanely great products, he realized that he needed an insanely simple organization to do that. Ken Segal lmakes a key point: Jobs never diminished the challenge of simplification. “But in the same breath he said that once you achieve simplicity, ‘You can move mountains.’ He wasn’t talking about himself. He was talking about you. The philosophy he expressed can be embraced by anyone, in any company, in any industry. To begin, you only need to put your stake in the ground.”

Your move.


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