Friday, February 8, 2013

4 Reasons and Ways to Keep It Simple

"Keep It Simple, Stupid" has been running through my brain lately. This little acronym, better known as K.I.S.S., seems quaint but precisely on the money. If you think about the last big initiative you pushed, why did people reject the idea? I doubt it was because they perceived it as something that would make their lives easier, more productive or more successful.

Imagine, if you will, a Hershey's kiss.  There is utter simplicity in a piece of chocolate shaped in the form of a raindrop, wrapped in a piece of foil with a strip of paper sticking out.  Very few people can avoid this delicious delight.  I mean, what's the harm in eating 1, 2 or 10?  It's not very fancy, yet it draws people in every time their eyes make contact.  Few are vehemently against this morsel. 

This Hershey's kiss is today's metaphor for keeping it simple.

Here are 4 Reasons that leaders must simplify:


New ideas require new knowledge and new ways of thinking about an idea.  Complex ideas can cause overload if the leader doesn't find simple ways to build foundational knowledge for the idea to succeed.  Also, ideas can cause cognitive conflict.  When this happens, rejection is certain.


New and complex ideas intimidate most people.  Leaders can get so enthralled in their idea that they present new concepts in a way that scares the mess out of the employee.  In addition, people can see an idea as a threat to their job or as an indicator that their performance is poor.


People are under a tremendous amount of stress with both personal and professional demands.  Under stress, new ideas can cause additional stress, and the brain will automatically reject the idea even if the person knows that it will help them.  People are easily overwhelmed when they are under high levels of stress.  New ideas can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.


People get lost in the presentation of a new idea simply because the language is new and different, or people attach different meanings to terminology.  Everyone attaches meaning to a word based on their experiences and prior understanding; hence, without laying the groundwork, there can become 25 different meanings of the same word.

Here are 4 ways that leaders can simplify for their teams:

Knot Ideas to Current Practices

Nothing is more annoying to an employee than to be presented an idea that makes them believe that they must drop everything and start doing something different.  Leaders must tie new ideas to their organization's current work.  People will be more interested in a new idea if they can see how it applies to and improves upon what they are currently doing.  Ideas that can be seen as an improvement stand a better chance of gaining systemic approval.

Invigorate Interest

Leaders must stimulate interest if an idea is going to take root.  Just like the foil and paper on a Hershey's kiss, leaders must present the idea along with the following:  why the idea is necessary, how it benefits employees, how it will generate systemic improvement and where it will take the organization.  Leaders who fail to inspire others by explaining why the idea is necessary will find fewer people taking off with it.  People must know the Why before the What.

Simplify Language & Concepts

Knowing the language of the organization is critical before moving forward.  Taking time to define new terminology and procedures is vital before taking off.  If there is a good understanding of the vocabulary within the idea, the knowledge base of the organization will be aligned.  As a result, teams can move together in the same direction with a common language and ultimately higher acceptance of the idea.

Seek Input

Errors are made when advice is not sought.  Take steps to present the idea to others so you can troubleshoot the problems within the idea before you roll it out.  Many times others can identify ambiguous terms, complications due to format or even redundant tasks if you ask the right people.  The leader can't see everything because the leader is not the one who will implement the idea.  Seek advice from other leaders who will eventually be needed to implement the idea.  By seeking input, you also build capacity for the idea to gain momentum.

Don't be Stupid

Hershey could have sold chocolate by the pound, but they knew it wouldn't sell unless they minimized the  girth of the concept.  Breaking down chocolate into bite-sized chunks was genius and became the standard for every chocolate company in America.  Hershey knew that many people wouldn't buy a bar of chocolate, but everyone would eat a bite.  Their simple idea was presented in a way that was non-threatening to the consumer's pocketbook as well as his waistline.

Leadership is a difficult task.  Progress requires new ideas, new ways of thinking and lots of risk taking.  Leaders must be smart about making progess and communicate frequently with those that they lead.  Presenting ideas in bite-size morsels is what gets people moving in the right direction.  When things get complex and frustrating, chances are that leaders threw out a piece too big to swallow.  It is then that the leader must step back, analyze the difficulties of the problem, eat a Hershey's kiss and simplify...


  1. Thanks for your post. I find the most important thing to connecting new initiatives to the existing PLC structure, although that can be a difficult sell at times. If good collaborative teams are up and running and time dedicated to letting them work, I feel like there is nothing we won't be able to do.

  2. I couldn't agree more. Connecting ideas to their collaborative culture makes it much easier to accept. Thanks for your comment & have a great day.