There is an old joke about unnecessary complexity at NASA. The story goes that in the early stages of of the space program, NASA discovered that ball point pens would not work in zero gravity. NASA scientists spent a decade and huge amounts of money developing a pen that wrote not only in zero gravity, but on almost any surface, at extremely low temperatures, and in any position the astronaut holds it. The punch line is: the Russians used a pencil instead.
Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, two of the most successful investors in history, are notorious for promoting the principles of simplicity. When looking at investment opportunities, they will place each deal into one of three buckets. In, Out, or Too Tough. Any business that is not based on simple fundamentals will end up in the too tough bucket. Here are a few ways you can apply the principles of simplicity to every day life:
1) When faced with a challenge or an opportunity, grab a white board and break the challenge down into its simplest form. At Swift Straw, we call this "Sorting It Out." I am always amazed at how much clarity and direction a 5 or 10 minute sort it out session can provide.
2) If you find yourself stumped at the white board, take action with a few simple tests. These are learning tests which are typically quick and inexpensive. With some of our recent packaging innovations, a day spent in the field testing our different ideas provided a tremendous amount of direction in a short period of time.
3) Always keep things as simple as possible and stay within your circle of competence. This means that you should focus on things that you are well versed in. Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger proudly admit that many more opportunities go in the too tough bucket than in the in bucket. They know what they know, but more importantly they know what they don't know and stay away from those areas.
Next time you are working through something, try the simple solution. And remember what Richard Branson says: "Any fool can make something complex, but it takes a genius to keep it simple."