Great business lesson from President Obama! Keep It Simple

Whether we’re talking about business, marketing, or health care reform, simple plan designs are always cleaner and easier. Nature loves simple designs. Think about the famous Fibonacci sequence, in which each number is the sum of the two numbers that preceded it. We’re so accustomed to the sequence that we barely register its presence, even though it’s all around us: the arrangements of flower seed heads, flower petals, pinecones, nautilus shells, hurricanes, and spiral galaxies are just a few naturally occurring examples of Fibonacci numbers.

The most effective design possesses a simplicity that belies its complexity. In other words, when good design works, it fades into the background as it supports its intended function. In fact, when design gets too complicated, it can get in the way of comprehension and impede the execution of its intended function.

Have you ever looked at some product’s packaging, for example, and found it so “overdesigned” that you had a hard time locating the preparation instructions or nutritional information you needed? Or consider the Internal Revenue Code, which currently clocks in at 3.7 million words and is infamous for being so complex as to be nigh-incomprehensible. I seriously doubt there’s a single accountant anywhere who has even read the entire document, much less understands all of it.

Last week, another example of overcomplexity made the news when the Obama administration announced that implementation of one aspect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would be delayed by one year. Many businesses had complained that the requirement for employers with at least fifty employees to provide health insurance was, under current conditions, too complicated. This provision was slated to go into effect at the beginning of 2014, but without clear regulations and rules in place to support the law, those employers worried that the unclear design of the structure would prevent them for executing the law’s function appropriately. Fortunately, the administration agreed and decided to allow one more year for the regulations to be determined and clarified.

Government is particularly renowned for being overcomplicated at times, but that problem plagues plenty of other industries, too. Savvy marketers understand the need to pursue multipronged approaches (after all, you never know which target will respond to which approach, right?), but if done incorrectly those methods can backfire. When numerous strategies are in play, they risk becoming disjointed—so much so that they barely have any connection with each other. The lack of a unified message can make a business seem unprofessional, incomprehensible … or overcomplicated.

By no means am I suggesting that companies simply eliminate parts of their marketing strategies. I do think, however, that many organizations could benefit from a thorough reevaluation of their approaches. Specifically, they should examine how their various strategies work together—or against each other—to convey a unified message and clear image of the company. In other words, if those strategies fail to leave the target with a simple understanding of the company and what it does, then they may be too complex to be effective.


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