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Simplicity: The Neglected Value

March 26th, 2011 by Bruna Martinuzzi

This column appeared first on OPEN Forum Idea Hub.

What do Leonardo Da Vinci, Churchill, Einstein, Walt Whitman, Chopin, Bruce Lee and Chris Brogan agree upon? They all extol the virtues of simplicity! Simplicity, to borrow Rumi’s metaphor, is gold hidden in dust. We read and hear enough about its benefits in just about every facet of our lives, yet we walk past it, every day, in pursuit of the more complex, complicated, tangled and sometimes puzzling. There is no glitter in simple, not enough buttons to play with. We fear that simple equates with easy, light, too basic—unsophisticated.

We have all experienced the joyful moments of simplicity: having the good fortune to end up behind a traveler who moves efficiently through airport security, enjoying a vanilla ice cream cone on a hot day or finding an off-the-rack jacket that fits perfectly. Simplicity reduces stress, cuts costs, saves time, increases productivity and enriches our lives. When we set out to cultivate simplicity, as part of our ethos, we become like a crystal-clear voice that rises above the din of the crowd. People notice. In fact, the more complex our world becomes, the more ingenious simplicity is.

Here are a few, practical pointers to bring some simplicity into your life:

1. View your work with a wide-angle lens. If you are sharply focused on the details, carve out time to gain a broader perspective—study the context and background of what you do. If it’s not readily apparent to you, become an organizational anthropologist. Dig out the insights from those who are gifted in seeing the big picture. John Maeda, computer scientist at MIT Media Lab—who is also referred to as the founding voice for simplicity in the digital age—uses a beautiful metaphor to refer to this shift in focus: it’s about becoming a light bulb instead of a laser beam. Understanding CONTEXT is one of the 10 Laws of Simplicity, outlined in Maeda’s book, by the same title. Narrowness complicates our lives because it becomes a blind alley.

2. Resolve to be totally candid with yourself. There is great emphasis today on ignoring our weaknesses, focusing on our passions and playing to our strengths. Meanwhile, it is our weaknesses, bad habits, and biases that are among the energy thieves for both, us and for those who work closely with us. “At the end of every road,” said Samuel N. Behrman, “you meet yourself.” When we take stock of the role that some of our bad habits play in conflicted situations, we have taken a simple, but powerful first step towards a more enlightened self. See what you can do to airbrush bad habits so that you can smooth out your life’s journey.

3. Observe an Internet Sabbath once in a while. William Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age provides a number of practical suggestions for leading a more properly connected life. Take a moment to watch his interview with Katie Couric. We gain dividends when we can set up rituals of unplugging, once in a while, to find the “quiet and spacious place where the mind can wander free.” The temporary breaks from the “digital crowd”—from that sense of always being on—help you focus better and get more out of your connectedness when you are back on. Selective disconnecting buys us space to think and strategize for the future.

4. Declutter your website. Work with a designer who understands the concept of flow. Flow is the optimal experience. This means eliminating unnecessary bells and whistles, making the information easy to find, the site easy to navigate and load; it means text that does not require an effort to read and backgrounds that are not distracting. The ultimate flow experience is Amazon’s “1-Click Ordering Button.” Consider how much of the website’s design is there to showcase the designer’s ego as opposed to making the visitors’ experience easier and simpler.

5. Determine your place on the simplicity/complexity continuum. Scott Berkun aptly describes the two types of people in organizations: the complexifiers and the simplifiers. The complexifiers, as its name implies, magnify and complicate every assignment. One could say that these are the people whose default mode is examine-it-to-death; they take the longer, circuitous route and slow everyone else in the process. They send emails that are treatises and, often, might consume more of the oxygen in the room. The simplifiers, on the other hand, thrive on reduction and concision. As Berkun succinctly puts it: “They never let their ego get in the way of the short path.” Which one are you? Awareness precedes self-management.

6. Simplify your vision or mission statement. With the exception of senior management and human resources personnel, how many employees in an organization can recite their organization’s mission or vision statement without hesitation? Research shows that the average mission statement is one to two paragraphs and over 75 words in length! Worse still, most are difficult to understand. Here are two examples of mission statements that are powerful in their simplicity: Google: “to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and Facebook: “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Simplify your mission statement and you increase your odds that it will be readily understood and remembered. If you want some inspiration on creating a three or four word statement to explain why your organization exists, read Guy Kawasaki’s article: Mantras versus Missions.

Willa Carter once described a simple man as “a tree that has not many roots, but one tap-root that goes down deep.” Paradoxically, when we set out to adopt simplicity as our preferred approach to most things in our business and personal life, we develop more depth because we learn to discern what is worthy of pursuit and what is not; we develop the sagacity to know what is valuable and what is superfluous. From Occam’s razor, in the 14th century—teaching us that the simpler of two competing theories is the preferable one—to the modern day slogan ‘Keep It Short and Simple’, simplicity has been a clarion call. Let’s heed it. It’s an enduring trend.

Copyright © 2011 Bruna Martinuzzi. All Rights Reserved.

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Are You Enchanting?

March 19th, 2011 by Bruna Martinuzzi

This is a review of Guy Kawasaki’s beautiful book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions.

Have a highlighter next to you when you set out to read this book, as this is that kind of a book: it is instructive and practical, full of actionable advice and real-world tips that we can all use in our lives. While written primarily for entrepreneurs seeking to promote their business, or marketers wanting to spread their organization’s message, this book will benefit everyone: whether you are a senior executive who wants to sharpen the saw, an emergent leader who wants to position herself for career success or an individual contributor who wants to attract positive attention, this book will help you.

So what is enchantment? The author defines it as “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization or idea,” which results in long-lasting support that is voluntary and beneficial to you and to those you enchant—whether it’s your customers, your employees or your boss. The perfect example of a company that enchants is Apple.

To be enchanting, you need to have three components: Likability, Trustworthiness and a Great Cause.

Likability:
The book includes 12 practical steps for being more likable: for example, defaulting to yes when someone asks for something (“A yes buys time, enables you to see more options, and builds rapport.”) Other aspects of likability include basics such as a genuine smile, dressing in a manner that respects your audience, and a proper handshake. While this is common-sense advice, it is not always common practice, unfortunately, and one can never be reminded enough of these aspects of civility. On the question of dress, for example, how often do we see someone show up for a presentation underdressed which signals disrespect for the audience. The likable thing to do is to dress the same as the audience: “Equal dressing says, “We’re peers.”

Trustworthiness:
There are 10 important aspects for achieving trustworthiness. Trustworthiness is key as the entire premise of the book is based on a foundation of integrity: influencing others without compromising our integrity. Emerson said: “Imitation is suicide.” This book is not about imitation—it’s about being inspired by others, and learning the best practices for enchanting so that you can make them a part of your personal operating system. An example of one of the concepts of trustworthiness that the author provides has to do with developing a mentality of abundance. In “Bake a Bigger Pie,” Kawasaki discusses the two types of people in organizations, which he calls the Eaters and the Bakers: “The Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie; bakers want to make a bigger pie.” We have all worked, at one time or other, with eaters. People who are trustworthy are bakers not eaters, that is, they believe in creating abundance for themselves and others. Eaters, on the other hand, come from a position of scarcity.

A Great Cause:
Great products have special features. The author conveniently describes these with the acronym DICEE. Deep (having many features), Intelligent (anticipating your needs and solving them in a smart way), Complete (offering the totality of the experience, e.g. service, support, bells and whistles), Empowering (giving the consumer the power to perform existing tasks better or providing the tools to do new things that one hadn’t even envisioned) and Elegant (e.g. a product designed with empathy for the user interface and experience.)

How to Launch:
With the three-legged foundation of enchantment established, Guy now gives you 11 tips on how to launch your cause or product, one of which is “Plant Many Seeds.” Thriving in the new world, some of these seeds need to be planted not just in the traditional way, with experts and those who yield influence, but targeting what Guy calls “the nobodies:” This could be the 15-year old who adopts your cause and makes it spread with his or her network: “The more nobodies you reach, the more likely they turn into somebodies for your cause.”

How to Overcome Resistance:

There are 14 practical chapters in this section which includes some timeless weapons of influence such as providing social proof (people are influenced by what others do), or creating the perception of scarcity (to fuel the desire for what you provide.) Also useful is the three-step advice for framing the competition.

Other Chapters:
Other chapters that I found extremely useful, as well, are the ones on how to use social media to influence others and get results: One chapter is on PUSH TECHNOLOGY (which “brings your story to people”—this includes presentations, e-mail and Twitter) and PULL TECHNOLOGY (which “brings people to your story—this includes Websites, blogs, Facebook, Linkedin and YouTube.) There is also an intriguing chapter entitled “Think Japanese.”

In the book, you will also encounter Guy Kawasaki’s 10, 20, 30 rule. If, for some reason, you are not familiar with Kawasaki, you can get a flavor of his down-to-earth style and his great sense of humor in this video where he talks about this powerful rule that is guaranteed to improve your PowerPoint presentations. The book is written in the same style.

And that’s not all: there is smart advice on how to enchant your boss, your employees (and even volunteers!) and a 9-point chapter on how to resist non-ethical enchanters—these are the people who have mastered the influence and persuasion techniques and use them on us for causes that are not in our best interest. For example, Don’t Fall for the Example of One: “…one glaring data point doesn’t determine a trend.”) Each chapter also ends with someone telling their own personal story of a moment when they were enchanted. These are inspiring, indeed. You will never forget, for example, Eric Dawson’s story.

As well, throughout the book, you discover items that catch your attention and send you to interesting websites such as the reference to dysphemistic swearing. Even the quotes at the start of chapters are interesting: “A great man is one sentence” (Clare Booth Luce) or “Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave” (Brancusi.)

The book ends with a useful 20-question quiz to find out how enchanting you are. You can also take the quiz online here. The book’s website provides useful resources such as slides and audio/video presentations on the topic of enchantment, as well as an info-graphic for the book. They are well worth a visit.

This volume is based on solid research in the field of influence and persuasion: in the bibliography, Kawasaki lists 20 books that he consulted during the course of his research. You will find many interesting case studies. Ultimately, the book is a primer on how to influence others—if you want to become more persuasive and enhance your ability to inspire others, read Enchantment and make full use of all of resources that it provides.

In the spirit of full disclosure: My own book is mentioned in Enchantment in a chapter on being a mensch, as a component of trustworthiness; I also had the privilege of reading the draft form of the manuscript.

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Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools And Techniques for Effective Presentations

Presenting with Credibility:
Practical Tools And Techniques for Effective Presentations

"Presenting with Credibility will make you an enchanting presenter. Read it if you want to take your presentation skills to the next level."

Guy Kawasaki, author of the best-selling Enchantment

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