Einstein, Simplicity and Your Customers
Without a doubt, I am a fan of Albert Einstein. Beyond his scientific genius, his logic based approach and his stylish hair, he had a way with words.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
If you take out the ‘violence’ bit, what is left is that reducing complexity to simplicity is…well, not so simple. As I look around the technology landscape, the obvious examples of this jump out, Apple is the poster child, but that is too easy. Let’s consider your customers:
- What are you doing to simplify the lives (work or personal) of your customers?
- Do you have a good grasp on what they want? Need? (There is a difference).
Do One Thing Really Well
An example most people can easily relate to is ‘storing stuff’. Here is the physical metaphor; As a traveler, I am looking forward to the day that when I open up my closet in my hotel room, there are my clothes for the day, exactly as they appear in my closet at home. I did not pack a suitcase, I did not drag a roller-thingy across 1000 yards from Terminal F to Terminal C at Chicago’s O’Hare.
The technology example is the storage and retrieval of my work files. Fair to say that a 8GB USB key would probably do the job, but that has become a pain. Why? Well, I work on a desktop, laptop and iPad – only 2 of 3 actually have a USB port. You could also say this is a problem of my own creation (yes, but hold that thought). A few companies have started to address this problem (Apple is, again, one). Many are doing this one thing really really well. Where companies get into trouble is trying to do too much – a place they will struggle to hide the complexity.
“Excellence is the sum of 100 or 1,000 of little details.” Drew Houston, DropBox
Do you Hide Complexity?
Providing a great experience (user or otherwise) is really hard, there is no doubt. The secret sauce of your offering, whatever it is, it is what you need to do better than anyone and provide great value. In general, there are at least two parts of a great experience. The remembered experience, you know the part we love, brag about (Facebook share) and thoroughly enjoy; think 2 feet of fresh powder on the slopes. Then there are parts which enabled that great experience but are meant to be forgotten; think parking lot shuttle or the high-speed chairlift.
The technological version is that when I am actively using an application, buttons, and user interface are important. I want fewer mouse clicks (or none), I want simplicity, when possible, but control of my own experience, when I want it. How about the other bits, the hard things; integrated spell check, auto-save, notifications, etc.,… In theory, gone are the days that I need to worry about these things, right? But, it took a long time to hide this complexity and we all complained pretty loudly when our file was lost, or an important document went to press with a spelling error. I only remember those things, when they don’t work.
Positive experiences are as much about the stuff that is memorable, as the stuff that is not. If I remember the ski-lift it is because it was a long line, a cold ride or it broke.
The relationship among complexity, simplicity and transparency is an interesting dynamic. Is it important to know the mechanics of the ‘detachable’ part of the chair or the size of the counterweight, on the ski lift? How many of you have asked to see the elevator certification (which is in the management office)? Do your users really want to know the actual protocol used to read and write data to and from your Dropbox files locally and how they are synchronized to the network? (Maybe)
Within the organizations you are doing business with, some people will want all the details and some really do not care. What most people really do care about is the following:
- You know the details,
- You are willing to share them if asked; Transparency
- For whatever you sell, it does what it says it does.
Finally, Is it Simple to Use, Simple to Understand and Simple to Explain?
I believe more people would prefer to think about the ride down in 2 feet of fresh powder, but that is just me.
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