The Art of Simplicity in Entrepreneurship with Michael Woodward


Simplicity is something we have talked about a few times on past shows but it continues to amaze me how people make the process of turning dreams and ideas into reality very complex. In today’s episode we are exploring the art of simplicity in entrepreneurship.

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So there was this guy Hans Hofmann. He lived between the 1880 and 1966 and was well known as an artist and teacher. His career impacted many generations in both Europe and America. As an artist he both preceded and influenced abstract expressionism. So what’s abstract expressionism??? It’s a post WWII art movement in painting that was the first specifically American Movement that achieved international influence and put America at the center of the western art world. It’s often considered an important predecessor in surrealism and put an emphasis on spontaneous, automatic or subconscious creation.  

Well Hans Hofmann once said this about simplicity… ‘The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.’  

When I talk to entrepreneurs and innovators I often hear very complex and bloated ideas that make the initial idea hard to understand or grasp. If you start with a bloated and complex idea it is really hard to move from the concept and into reality all while captivating your audience into action.

Now it’s really easy to misunderstand ‘simplicity’ and I want to make sure that I’m clear in saying ‘over simplification can also be detrimental to the process’. What we are shooting for is the process of finding the sweet spot where your ideas and dreams flourish.  

So what exactly is simplicity? Simplicity can be defined in so many different ways. Here’s a few examples…

  1. the quality or condition of being easy to understand or do. "for the sake of simplicity, this chapter will concentrate on one theory" It brings clarity, clearness, intelligibility, comprehensibility, illumination, straightforwardness, and accessibility to the dream or idea.

  2. the quality or condition of being plain or natural. "the grandeur and simplicity of Roman architecture”… lack/absence of adornment, lack/absence of embellishment, unpretentiousness in execution

  3. a thing that is plain, natural, or easy to understand. plural noun: simplicities "the simplicities of pastoral living”. straightforwardness, ease, easiness, lack or absence of complication, effortlessness, manageability.

For years, simplicity in the complex had been at the heart of Apple. Steve Jobs even addressed this when he said ‘That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. 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.’ 

Now complexity has become the mantra of today. We have complicated relationships, complex integrations of technology in our lives, complexity that leads to over busyness, and complexity that leads us uncertainty / depression / and burnout. We want to be all things to all people, but in the plurality of being everything to everyone in business and life we loose the power of our identity and focus.

Simplicity unlocks many superpowers in the process of turning our dreams and ideas into reality. In this complex world it’s time we stop being on autopilot and start taking the action to simplify the process to unlock a future we want to create.  

In a moment we will be back to go a little deeper about the art of simplicity in entrepreneurship.

Welcome back, we are talking about ‘The art of simplicity in entrepreneurship’. In this segment I’m sharing 5 ways to incorporate the art simplicity into your journey of life and entrepreneurship. You’ll notice that I mentioned ‘life and entrepreneurship’ instead of just entrepreneurship. While I’m specifically sharing tips on simplicity in entrepreneurship, many of these tips can apply past entrepreneurship and really help you in life too. So if you aren’t an entrepreneur, you can keep listen and you will have some great takeaways for your life.

But before we jump into the five tips, I want to go little deeper into what simplicity is and isn’t.

Simplicity isn’t just cutting your idea or dream back to one thing. It is cutting away everything that doesn’t support your core idea and dream.

Simplicity isn’t dummying down the idea and dream. It is making it clear so that people can understand and grasp what you are saying and doing.

Simplicity isn’t boring design. It is intention design filled with beautiful design that matters.
Simplicity isn’t easy. It’s actually a lot of hard work filled with purpose.
Simplicity isn’t a shortcut to getting done quicker (although it may do that). It is a process of refinement and perfecting the idea or dream.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Simplicity is often much harder to do. Duke Ellington once said ‘Simplicity is a most complex form.’

Now I know that some of are are listening and thinking ‘Mike, I get it…simplicity is cool.’ But how do we move into using the art of simplicity as an entrepreneur? We’ll I’m glad you asked because I wanted to share 5 tips to use simplicity as an entrepreneur.

Tip number one: Clarify your message.  

One of the first areas that many people over complicate their dreams and ideas in through the words they use to communicate their dreams and ideas. To be successful you need to focus on the message you use with yourself, your team, and the people you serve. Messages really only matter if people understand them and can buy into how this will solve a problem for them or the people around them. Often our messaging is based on our presupposed assumptions. Better known as bias. Everything we do is based on bias. If we want to be affective our message must remove bias that steals from the core of what we are communicating.  

This requires a deep understanding of the people we are serving. The simpler we can cut back the message to only what the audience needs, the better we will do in converting them to our way of thinking. This in turn will captivate them to engage with our message, product, or service. Unless you are specifically communicating with someone who inherently understands your industry you need to simplify industry speak. Let me give you an example.

For several years I would have customers come into our web design and development agency and ask ‘what is the difference between a domain (web address) and the hosting. Often this is a question they had asked over and over again with agencies they had worked with in the past or gotten quotes from. Instead of trying to explain the differences using tech speak, I tried to communicate in a way that made sense to someone in terms they would understand. I would say something like.

So you own a house and a friend wanted to come over and visit asked how do I get to your house You give them your address and they plug the address into their GPS and it takes them to your house. Now they are at your house but they aren’t in your house. They knock at the door, you open the door, and they come into the house to hang out. You then take them on a tour of hour house showing them the various rooms and your prized possessions. Now in this story, the domain is your address. It gets you to your house but thats about it. Your house is the hosting. That’s where you store all your stuff (your web pages). The various rooms are the pages of your websites. The stuff in the room are the photos, text, and other content on the site.

This action of simplicity was all it took for many potential customers feel like I understood them, was able to communicate with them, and ultimately want to become our customer.

When you clarify your message by using simplicity you will often find the right people to be part of your tribe and ultimately be your customer.

Martin H Fisher who is well know for his teaching on the art and practice of medicine said this ‘Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.’

We must use wisdom to simplify our message. This is key to our success.

Tip number two

Declutter overly complex systems. Many of us act as the chicken with it’s head cut off. We are running around responding to the latest emergency. We are responding without knowing how to prevent the emergencies we face. Our systems either don’t exist or are broken. This is often a side affect of overtly complex or bloated systems. Our systems are a key to the success of our businesses (and lives). We must have healthy simply systems.

For me it’s something as simple as having my calendar sync with my wife’s calendar make all the difference in know what is on our schedule and if we can schedule something else on a specific day and time. This system is simple. It just works. However many of us use systems that are bloated, complicated, and inefficient. This steels from our time and energy.

Simplifying our systems have two steps.

  1. Do we have a system for the things we regularly do?

  2. Our our systems working?

A few years ago I hired two project managers for our business. One was very inline with our philosophy of simplicity both with working with our clients and in the systems we used to manage their projects. The other project manager wanted to add crazy amounts of systems that were slowing down our process and getting in the way of working with our clients. It was the path of least resistance vs duplication of work and effort. One project manager was right for our company, the other was not.  

Let’s talk about a few systems many businesses will have:

  • CRM (customer relationship management)

  • Project Management

  • Time Management

  • Payroll

  • Billing, invoicing, and contracts

  • and if you sell products you are going to have systems around inventory, shipping, online, purchases, and more.

I could probably create a list hundreds if not thousands of systems for businesses if I took the time to do that. Simple things that many people forget like who cleans the bathroom or sweeps the floor.

A heathy system and be broken into four key areas often called ‘the circle of trust and accountability’.

  1. Is this system capable with our company culture and what our customer expects.

  2. Can we trust this system to work no matter what we toss at it.

  3. Does this system empower our team and company

  4. Is there accountability in the system?

If you can simplify each system down to answer these questions, then you are building systems that will help build your business.

So take the time to think about your systems. Remove the clutter that gets in the way. Remove extra and unnecessary steps. Make the process as easy as possible and then Work The Systems.

Tip number three

Cut out additional features that are unnecessary. In the startup world we talk about building a MVP. A Minimum Viable Product is critical for the success of your business. Often we are so focused on all the ‘bells and whistles’ that we forget that we are solving our customer’s pain and helping make their lives better. We add ‘extra’ things because we are certain that they will need it. Some may, others will not. The more we can cut back to only the things we need in the products, services, and messages we share, the more likely they are to become big fans and long term customers along the way. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve worked on where a client said that they ‘needed’ something on a project only to find out that their customer hated it. Don’t always think that you know best. Learn from those around you. They will help you understand what is and isn’t working with your products and services. Ultimately when you cut features that are unnecessary, unwanted, and bloated; you will save time, money, and a lot of headaches. It’s always better to start simple and add what people request versus removing what isn’t working.

Tip number four

Hyper focus. This one is hard for me. I want to help everyone and solve everyones problems. Often when you so this, everyone will suffer. You will be unhappy, projects will take longer, and your customers will not get what they want. You need to focus on the best uses of your time and energy. You need to learn how to say yes to the right things and say no to the wrong things. So how do you do this.

  • Simplify the clients that you serve and only serve the customers you can serve well.

  • Know what you do and stay in the sweet spot of the products and services that you offer. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something.

  • Learn to say yes to things that excite you and feed your passion.

  • Say no to things that will drain you and steel your joy.

Ultimately keeping what you do simple will make you more money, add more time, and bring excitement and joy back into what you do. This will unlock the ability to focus on what matters. You need to guard your time.

Tip number five

Ask this simple question: ‘does what I am doing energize the dream or idea I have?’. If it does then keep doing it. If it doesn’t stop doing it.  

You must keep the vision of where you are going in the forefront of what you are building. Often we take side roads because we’ve lost our focus and vision. You need to keep with your vision and then build the things that will get you there. There is a proverb that ways ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18). Not only do I think that people perish (employees that no longer work for you, family breakups caused by divorce, friends lost over disagreements) but I also think that dreams and ideas perish when you have lost your vision. You must keep hyper focused on the vision to see your dreams and ideas come to life. As Dwight Eisenhower once said: don’t let the urgent overtake the important.  

So those are my five tips for you today around simplicity in entrepreneurship. In a moment we will be back to talk a little more about simplicity.

In my opinion, Simplicity is one of the most important keys to launching into your dreams and ideas. When we keep simplicity as a bedrock of our journey into entrepreneurship, we are more likely to make those dreams and ideas real. So here’s a few questions for you today.

  1. What are you doing that is overcomplicating and bloating your big idea and dream?

  2. What systems are slowing you down?

  3. If you don’t have systems, what systems can you put in place to help you?

  4. What are you saying yes to that you should be saying no to?

  5. What is the vision and where do you want to go?

Simplicity is going to look different for each person and business. What works for one business or team might be a failure for another team. You really need to be intentional about finding and creating simplicity in all that you do.

Thanks for tuning into today’s episode. It means the world to me that you would listen to our show. I hope you are feeling inspired to step out into the unknown and make your dreams a reality too.  

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