Chuck Lauer: Don’t Take a Jet to the Grocery Store

Ever since I have been in business, one of the best but least-heeded aphorisms has been, "Keep it simple."

Remember the mantra of Bill Clinton's first campaign, "It's the economy, stupid"? That was simplicity at its finest. That slogan kept his team from getting off-message and slipping into the quicksand of a thousand issues.  chucklauer
 
Many people in business, government, healthcare and even sports these days have a tendency to take simple matters and make them very complicated, wasting time, effort and money. NASA once spent years and millions of dollars inventing a pen that would work in space. The Russians gave their astronauts pencils. Smart people appoint committees, develop spreadsheets and protocols and spend months on problems that one person with sound judgment could dispense with in an afternoon. The more complicated we can make an issue, the smarter we seem, I guess.
 
Here is a micro example: Recently a good friend of mine told me a story about a committee he sat on at his country club, which must close early this year to fix the damage wrought by the severe winter we just had in the Midwest. The group had gotten together to raise some money for the club's employees, who would lose out on income, such as tips, that they normally would receive. My friend said that the meeting got off to a good start but as it progressed the suggestion was made that each of the committee members should recruit a team of other members to ask still other members for funds for the drive.
 
My friend then asked the committee, "Why are we taking a jet to the grocery store?"
 
He was asked what he meant, and he replied that his fellow members were making something that ought to be simple too complicated. "Why don't we just get 50 of our members who would be willing to add on a charge of $250 to their regular dues and that money would be transferred over to the fund for the employees?" he asked. His fellow members were astonished by the clarity of his thinking.
 
I learned early on from some mentors to avoid unnecessary complexity. I keep meetings to a minimum and eschew committees. I always ask, "How can we keep this as simple as possible, involving the fewest people possible?"
 
And yet, our society is hell bent on taking a jet. A macro example: The federal meaningful use rules, meant to encourage hospitals and doctors to switch from paper records, have caused vendors of electronic health records systems to adopt rigid systems that lack flexibility and adaptability to individual providers' needs, all to make it easier to "attest." As a result, users are rebelling, saying EHRs are making their jobs harder, not easier.
 
The modern technology of conference calls, videoconferences and webinars seem to fill entire days for many managers and directors. Many of the events take perfectly good, productive and bright people from their jobs when they could be communicating with customers or simply getting stuff done.
 
Sometimes life and work is complex by necessity. Some technologies do help solve problems. The job of leaders is to seek in all activities the simplest means possible to subdue complexity and get things done. A car, or even a good pair of walking shoes, is often better than a jet.

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