Simplicity Lies in the Eyes of the Entrepreneur

Simplicity Lies in the Eyes of the Entrepreneur

Our ideas are not static, they do not come out of thin air. They are part of our experiences and the varied moments of insight gathered through our lives. By deconstructing and distilling our complex ideas into their most basic components, we can think simply and clearly about complex ideas and important decisions. 

Food for thought: Imagine you are a startup founder with a new product and people are seeing your product for the first time in a movie. How would you describe this in one sentence to get your message across? What’s the first line in that movie script that grabs people’s attention?

In a complex and changing environment, simplifying your thinking can enable you to identify and prioritize new opportunities as well as re-evaluate your current state under new conditions. But simplifying complexity is far from simple.

In his 2008 book Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur Richard Branson said, “When you’re first thinking through an idea, it’s important not to get bogged down in complexity. Thinking simply and clearly is hard to do.”

Successful entrepreneurs like Branson provide real-world examples of simplifying complex ideas into universally understood concepts and building them into valuable products and businesses. The challenge, however, is that the value in simplicity is usually realized in hindsight by those trapped in a complex world.

For example, it was only after Steve Jobs told the world he’s going to “put a thousand songs in your pocket” that people really understood what the iPod was. There were dozens of MP3 players on the market when the iPod was launched in 2001, so what made the iPod different? Steve Jobs. He simplified the conversation from miniature hardware devices that store and play digital MP3 files to, quite simply, putting songs in your pocket. Suddenly, everyone got it.

So how do you think simply and clearly as Branson says in his book and Jobs demonstrated with the iPod in 2001? If you’ve been paying attention, the answer won’t surprise you: it’s complicated. But it starts with applying some useful thought exercises to the challenges you’re facing today. Below is a practical exercise I’ve used successfully with a number of clients that you can apply to a wide variety of scenarios such as making an important investment decision, building a pitch deck to raise capital, or even choosing a Netflix film that pleases everyone.

1) Re-examine

  • Think back to the first moment you remember your idea and re-examine the insights and observations that inspired your idea

2) Re-test 

  • Consider those insights and observations from a different perspective/vantage point and re-test the assumptions of your idea

3) Re-validate

  • Share this journey with a small group you trust and see what succinct sentence you are able to come up with to explain your idea
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