The Quest for Simplicity

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The approaching holiday season, as always, puts me in a more introspective mood than usual. In preparation for the New Year l look back at the days gone, people met, events lived. The year 2014, for me, is marked by the Quest for Simplicity.

My life, like the lives of many people around me, has been surrounded by activities, demands, not enough hours, compromises, occasional guilt for not doing what is wanting or needing to be done, and generally huffing and puffing about stuff. And then, while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in January just trying to make it to the top, I had a stark ‘revelation’. It hit me. All that is magnificent is simple. I was startled by this idea – that life is really simple, but it is we who insist on making it complicated.  Later I found out that it was Confucius who articulated this first… So, sadly, my “discovery” discovered nothing new.

Consequently, I have started to make things simpler in my life and have adopted the question I asked myself on the mountain as a new mantra – “Will doing this help me climb the mountain?” If the answer is “no”, I won’t do it. It’s a question I always ask now when standing in front of a choice.  After pausing like this, the alternatives miraculously reduce themselves, and if a particular task, project, or activity is not directly aligned with my goal, I ignore it. It’s quite deliberate and it is quiet liberating. In addition, the renewed focus helps me be more productive in the areas that are of value, while the gained time allows for some precious thinking.

It is easy to say “yes” to everything that interests me, but the road to Simplicity is paved with the courage to say “no”. I love this quote from the late Steve Jobs: “People think focus means saying ‘yes’ to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things”.

I have learnt that saying “no” does not equal rejection. It means having a clear direction and being relentlessly committed to making things happen. Getting rid of distractions in order to help stay coherent and true to the commitment.

Over time, the theme of Simplicity has become part of my daily routine, and thus became part of my interactions with others – my entire consulting practice. I am now convinced that complexity has become the killer of our organizations. I have, probably like many others, grown weary of organizations who implement complicated solutions to problems, departments who re-do their processes without a critical look at the true need, and people who give convoluted answers to questions. Complexity kills progress and creativity. It poisons engagement and joy. It dims the spirit of the organization. It blocks us from getting to our success faster.

It appears that we try to prove our self-importance by decorating and adding. Our ego or insecurities demand us to get lost in the details and hold on to things, rather than let go and focus on what is essential. So, the more clouded the answer, the more distrusting I become and the more I question the fear and the hidden need behind it.

I apply this thinking to others, as well as to myself. I find it very helpful to look in the mirror and face my own insecurities in order to learn and grow. Simplicity helps me be the better me, and helps me to help others face their truth. All of this leads to different exchanges, deeper probing, more questions and, hopefully, a more meaningful, strategic, and streamlined way of functioning.

I strongly believe all of us can pause and use our own variation of the “will this help me climb the mountain” question when making decisions, big and small. When we craft a vision – make sure that it is crisp and clear. When we choose strategies, initiatives, tactics and projects – ensure they align with the vision. When we deal with conflict – keep the conversation on topic and real. When we problem solve – come up with an elegant and transparent solution or approach. When showing appreciation – get to the point and be true…

With this blog I call on you to take the excuse of the New Year’s resolution to ask yourself – what can you do to unclog the minds of your organization and take it to a fresh place, where things are… simpler. Find your question. Set your goal. Go!

By the way, next November, I’ll be climbing to the base camp of Mt. Everest – my next serious commitment to raise funds for Outward Bound Canada… and thus my journey towards simplicity continues.

Happy Holidays. I wish you all a lovely ending to this year and may 2015 be… Magnificent.

With love,


One Response to “The Quest for Simplicity”

  1. Jaco Crouse

    This is so important and essential – the quest for simplicity. ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ – Leonardo Da Vinci. Breaking complex problems down to the basics reveals the the true nature of the problem but clearing out the clutter seems to be an art that is easily lost if not focused upon diligently. A real treat is to read how Einstein developed the theory of relativity and why we can travel in time if we can move faster than the speed of light….


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