Simplicity Rules: Why Complex Solutions to Business Issues Aren’t Always Better

Every now and then I see or hear complaints from executives who hired a consultant for help with a business problem, only to find the recommended solution was simply common sense. “I paid him thousands of dollars to tell me something I already knew!” they say.

These people are understandably frustrated. They hired someone to tell them the answer that was right in front of them. They learned that what they should have seen (or even what they knew, but didn’t act on) was exactly what they needed.

If the answer was so blindingly obvious, why didn’t they do it?

The frustration of these executives is a sign of two issues:

1) People don’t like to be wrong. Finding out that we overlooked an answer that was right in front of us can bruise to the ego. Accepting that we missed something  – especially a simply solution – means acknowledging  we’re not infallible, “If I’m really as good as I think I am,” our inner logic says, “I should have known that.

2) We believe action equals results. We have a tendency to assume that “bigger is better.” Instead of choosing a quick and simple solution, we look for grand displays of change and progress. Demonstrating major effort seems to affirm our value, attracting attention to our hard work and validating that “we’re on the ball.”

It’s Not About You

The problem is, both of these issues are reflections on personal, not professional needs. We’re all human. It can be a challenge to overcome our personal concerns about being valued, especially when we’re under the gun for results. These emotional reactions are at the core of these two responses to simple solutions.

Being an effective executive requires being objective and secure in our self-worth. Set aside these visceral responses and we can begin to understand why an elegantly simple solution is often the best approach to a business challenge.

Don’t Over-Complicate

Rather than grumbling about how the consultant told you something you already knew, think about the alternative. Some consultants take a project and move in for the long haul.

What started as a short-term engagement becomes a never-ending process. They offer add-on after add-on: more research, training for everyone, expanding communications, and so on.

Is that what you want? The  process will certainly keep you busy if you’ve got nothing better to do. As a leader in your organization there are likely plenty of other important initiatives competing for your attention. Focus on what matters most: results.

Complexity is Costly

Complex solutions to simple problems are costly. From disruption of daily operations to ongoing expenses for implementation, expanding complexity for the sake of appearances is an expensive decision.

The more complicated the solution, the longer it takes to implement. As time goes by, opportunities for failure grow, reducing the chances of overall success. At the same time, the disruption to your organization is magnified when employees, suppliers and partners become affected by the ripple effect of changes.

Over the course of a major intervention, productivity may decline, errors can be introduced and dissatisfaction can grow. In some cases, disruption is necessary, but why introduce pain if it’s not an essential ingredient in the solution?

Speed Saves

Simple, straightforward solutions can be implemented quickly.  The faster you fix the problem, the sooner everyone gets back to work.

Why focus on a flurry of activity disguised as problem solving when you could put your efforts toward more productive, revenue-generating activity?

For example, should you reorganize a whole department when the problem is really one bad apple? Is divesting assets the answer if they could be easily repurposed? Do you need to exit a market for lack of qualified staff if you can train talent instead?

We all know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Apply that knowledge to business issues and look for the most practical answers.

Find the simple solution, execute and move on.

Simplicity = Value

A consultant who can quickly home in on a simple solution to a complex problem is a prized ally. Someone who cuts to the chase provides exceptional benefits to an organization in a number of ways:

  • When your team is so close to the issue that they lose perspective,  the fastest way to a solution can be hiring outside help whose vision is not clouded by the corporate lens.
  • Even if you knew the answer before you asked, an objective viewpoint can be critical in affirming your gut instinct, increasing your confidence in moving forward.
  • An outside, non-biased opinion may be essential to secure buy-in from other executives or board members, removing a roadblock and enabling faster progress.
  • When facing a complex solution, an alternative viewpoint can shine the light on a more direct path, allowing immediate results with minimal disruption.

Take up the challenge to look for the simple solutions and  you’ll quickly discover the advantages: faster improvement, reduced costs and accelerated growth.  Who can complain about that?

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