Keep it Simple (Three tips)


Today’s world can feel super complex at times. Technology and the proliferation of information mean it is no longer only about what you know or even whom you know.  It is about but how you keep moving forward based on a simple set of priorities.

When we consider a complex problem, we need the tools to simplify life for ourselves and sometimes for others around us. Steve Job’s said ‘’Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains’’.  I think he is right.

As a CIO, I had to find ways to explain complex problems and interactions. I often used drawings and grids as a way to evaluate information or display it to others. I don’t have a degree in technology and am not a technologist but was working in technology leadership roles; I couldn’t have explained things in a complicated way! I often used drawing when listening to my teams to understand what they were saying, and they had to know how to explain things without complexity as well!

This trail of simplicity meant that I could convey at board or Senior Management level what was happening.  I may not have used my scribble. Still, I did explain interactions more simply because of the many questions I asked to understand myself and validate the understanding of my team, rather than my detailed knowledge.  I often got feedback I was easy to understand for a technology person!

I have talked to multiple board members who have told me that so many people report to a board with masses of detail but don’t truly understand either how or what they are conveying because they haven’t simplified it.
Keeping things simple entails understanding it at the ‘’big picture’’ level yourself.  If you get too tied up in detail, you will not have the ability to explain something well to somebody else.  That person may be critical to carry out your agenda, so taking the type to simplify is well worth it.

So my Three tips for keeping it simple with a complex problem of any nature are as follows:

  1. Create a Four Blocker grid or a Mindmap – In that grid break down the elements of the problem into a logical summary. The purpose of the Four Block or mindmap is to force you to come up with relevant tags or compartments for the information you are conveying.  Having only four options forces simplicity and will make it easier to summarise your solution(s).
  2. Neutralise – Consider your take on the situation and remove all emotive language and descriptors from your Four Blocker. It’s best to present information neutrally so both you and others can truly consider the situation.
  3. Declutter – Cut it down again if there is still much information in each block.  Decluttering create space and space creates solutions.


Life is often both busy and complicated, and neither of these things makes for sound decision making and hence clear priorities.

Create the ‘white space’ you need to think and be creative.  You will never regret it.  It’s what I do whenever things seem overwhelming, and it has never failed to make my next action more precise.


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