Humans want to feel smart. This is especially true for younger generations, including those just entering the workforce, that have grown up in hyper-competitive times, with parents living vicariously through them. There’s constant measurement versus peers, and social media certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors in this department.
For most, when they feel smart, they feel validated, and to an extent, this makes them feel superior to others – something that many people secretly crave. The inherent drawback to this mindset, is that it leads to really complex solutions and ideas that create far more harm than good. To many, if they are proposing something complex, they feel that is signals difficulty, and that if they understand something difficult, that others will then deduce that they are smart – and of course superior.
This is the exact opposite of how a leader behaves. Leadership isn’t about being smart. It’s certainly not about being superior. It’s about moving individuals or groups toward achievement of a worthy goal. Said differently, leadership isn’t about being smart, it’s about making others around you smart. It’s so simple, yet most people are counting success based on how they feel (smart, superior) rather than how effectively they or their team achieve a given goal. That’s messed up.
When you’re dealing with others in a leadership situation, variability comes into play: skills, mindsets, frames of reference, etc. The way to combat this variability is with simplicity. After all, you’re only as fast as your slowest person. Thus, simplification removes risk and gives you the greatest chance of success since you presumably need each and every person performing at their best. Make no mistake, the art of simplifying things so that OTHERS understand, is very difficult in and of itself, but it’s an absolute necessity if your satisfaction is going to come from real achievement rather than simply feeling something.
A common mistake is to think that simplicity means that goals must be easy. It’s quite the opposite. Goals must be overwhelmingly challenging – otherwise, what’s the point of pursuing them? The goals and the way they’re going to be achieved, however, must be simple and easily understood.
I’ve burned way too many hours in meetings – hours that I’ll never get back – because teams were spinning their wheels trying to get their heads around complex goals for which they had limited understanding. An added benefit of simplicity, apart from removing risk from your execution, is that is speeds your execution. When you find yourself in one of these situations, step back, start thinking at a granular level, and ask yourself what the most basic solution would look like.
The same is true in your own life. Looking at yourself as an individual, the more complex your goals and the more complex your daily activities, the more variability you bring into play. Simplicity and clarity will do wonders in your own life. As Tim Ferriss famously asks himself, “what would this look like if it were easy?” Simplicity always wins. That’s a fact.