The “why” of keeping it simple

invoice-professionallyI’ve written at length about the importance of keeping things simple. Whether it’s the answers to your interview questions, your pitch to a new client, or a discussion with a disgruntled vendor, simplicity is the way to go.  Far too often, we make things harder than they need to be. We add extraneous, unnecessary levels of complexity to things and create frustrations for others.

Consider these two explanations of how a website functions:

  1. When you type a domain name into your web browser, your browser sends a request to a web server where the website’s files are located. Your browser downloads these files and renders them on your screen.
  1. A website can be generalized as a web app that requires a Web browser to work. To know how a website works, you should first know how a web browser works. Through a web browser, you request a website as you type its URL into the search bar. If the DNS finds the request valid, it starts rendering the website in the browser window. HTML can be pre-processed with the help of some server-side solutions and can be served dynamically without needing/creating static files.

Question Marks Around Man Showing Confusion And UnsureThe first one is in plain simple English that anyone with a basic level of technical literacy can grasp. Number two, however, is a different story. Web app? Now I need to know how a web browser works? URL, DNS, HTML, server-side solutions? To a general audience, this sounds like gibberish. That’s why there’s so much power in creating things that are simple. Everyone knows someone who can take complicated ideas and concepts and break them down into simple, understandable terms, as in the first example. It’s a real skill that’s far too scarce.

But why? Why is simple so much better? The answer is in the science of the brain. Humans are hardwired for simplicity. It’s called cognitive fluency, which refers to the ease or difficulty with which the brain processes information—literally how easy it is to think about something. When things are easy, the brain is satisfied, and a satisfied brain is more open to influence than one which is skeptical or craves more complexity. This is why the Google homepage is simply the Google doodle and the search bar. There’s no long explanation of what Google is or does, how it came to be, its features and benefits, or why you should use it. It gets you immediately to where you want to be. Simple.

You can translate this bit of neuropsychology into your career. Explain things to your team in a way that everyone can understand. If you’re creating new promotional materials, err on the side of “less is more.” Remember that you don’t need to explain features and benefits. No one buys features. They buy solutions to their problems. Focus on that. When you’re interviewing, remove extraneous details about previous roles, and focus on what’s important—your achievements.

Simplicity implies trust. People want to work with people they trust and like. Whether you’re looking for a new job, outsourcing new business, or trying to sell widgets, keep your pitch simple to appeal to that primal human need for simplicity.


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