This blog post is cross-posted on the ILTA KM Blog.
People who know me well know that I’m a bit obsessed with simplicity, minimalism, and focus. For a while, those three words were set as my iPhone screen wallpaper, staring me in the face dozens of times a day. So, when I learned that Ken Segall, who worked with Steve Jobs on several Apple ad campaigns, published a book called Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success, of course I bought it.
Insanely Simple digs into the world of simplicity at Apple under Steve Jobs. It also introduces the concept of the Simple Stick. “The Simple Stick symbolizes a core value within Apple. Sometimes it’s held up as inspiration; other times it’s wielded like a caveman’s club. In all cases, it’s a reminder of what sets Apple apart from other technology companies and what makes Apple stand out in a complicated world: a deep, almost religious belief in the power of Simplicity.”
The Simple Stick is a concept I’ve begun to adopt in my knowledge management work. I’ve always sought to distill ideas, thoughts, and work product to their essence, making them “as simple as possible, but no simpler.” But the idea of the Simple Stick gives me a shorthand (simpler!) way to communicate my desire to do so. It’s a reminder to me (and to those with whom I work) to not give in to the evils of complexity. This applies in written communications, as well as user interface / user experience design, of intranet sites. On a review of a prototype intranet page, for example, I’ll say “hit it with the Simple Stick,” meaning: look for ways to make the interface cleaner, or the method of accessing data more direct and uncomplicated. While some people have a tendency to clutter up a page with superfluous words or features or other unnecessary stuff, my goal is to keep chipping away until what’s left is both necessary and sufficient. After all, “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Simplicity in KM is important for many reasons, not the least of which is time (or the lack thereof). Busy lawyers have precious little time, and the time they have is best spent on revenue-generating work. Wasting their time with superfluity affects the bottom line. One of the cornerstones of KM is to increase efficiency. Complex design, cluttered ideas, and extra stuff gets in the way and slows us down. Clean, simple design is faster and clearer. It empowers people. It allows them to get things done and move on to the next important task. It reduces frustration and disharmony.
As Segall writes, “Simplicity needs a champion.” His book provides readers with the anecdotes, ideas, and motivation to promote that cause.