Absorbing Complexity

In order to create simplicity, organizations have to absorb complexity.

More and more leaders are beginning to understand the value of simplicity. Simple customer experiences are an important goal for many organizations today, but the journey itself is not so simple.

Simplicity makes sense. From taglines to elevator speeches, simple ideas travel and have a better chance of breaking through the market noise. Simple messages are easier to remember and repeat. Designing for simplicity is becoming recognized as a customer experience goal. Channeling Dieter Rams’ “less but better” sensibility, Apple has taken this to an extreme degree with its product design, and simplicity is often the raison d'etre for much UX design today.

Simplicity suggests ease of understanding and use. Many organizations promote how it’s easy to get started, easy to order a sample, easy to buy, easy to get support, and so on. Originally, Google was not known for design but has since emerged as a leader with its Material design system, which aims to create “intuitive and beautiful” (simple, easy) products. The belief and increasingly well-researched understanding is that, in a world of complexity, customers crave simplicity.

We agree. In fact, here is the last chapter of our book in its entirety: “Keep it simple.”

But this is where things get complicated. When experiences are made simple, the complexity doesn’t just go away. Creating simple experiences is hard work. Was Amazon’s 1-click purchase and overnight delivery juggernaut easy to set up? No, it wasn’t. It took Amazon nearly a decade to become profitable. Neither was designing like Dieter Rams or creating Google’s Material design system. But Rams-inspired Apple products have forever changed the face of product design, just as Material has set a new standard for UX design.

These organizations understood a critical reality: In order to create simplicity, they have to absorb complexity.

Internalizing customer complexity is not the norm for companies optimized for their core competencies, and outsourcing the rest. Industrial-era thinking pushes against internal complexity. In many mature industries, customers are confused by market complexities, distributors, influencers, and channels. Today, in the information era, customers won’t tolerate such complexities. The onus of providing simple customer experiences is on each competitor. Market leaders will rise to the occasion, reverse the trend of pushing complexity to the customer, and invest in better customer experiences.

Simplicity wins. Amazon investors showed a lot of patience and confidence in its leadership, but it’s clearly paying off. In the 4th quarter of 2017, Amazon made more money than in the previous 14 years.

Forward-looking leaders will recognize the value of simplicity and the importance of absorbing customer complexity. It’s hard work below the waterline, but will win the long game.

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