On a recent flight from Chicago to New York, I realized that there is a lot of important information to process when traveling.  There’s also a lot of unimportant information – noise.  I sat in the emergency row, so I had even more to process than some of the other passengers (e.g., the emergency exit door weighs 50 pounds and it needs to be completely removed prior to exiting).

What struck me is that even in an environment where certain information is so critically important — life and death in some instances — the airline also muddied the water with frivolous information.  Interspersed with “what to do in case of a water landing,” for example, I learned that I was flying on a McDonnell Douglas S80 aircraft and that we would be flying at 31,000 feet.  My immediate reaction: “Why are you telling me this?”  These are two pieces of information that are completely irrelevant, unimportant, and distracting.  That’s the problem – distraction.   By including this distracting information, the airline runs the risk of passengers missing the important stuff.   How much did that door weigh, again?

The same applies in your organization.  If you clutter your message with frivolous information, there’s an increased chance that people will miss what you really want them to know.  To increase the likelihood that you’ll effectively communicate what’s important, think “simple and minimal.”

“Simple” is about making things easy to understand.  Speak or write in plain language, not KM jargon.  Use as few words as possible to effectively communicate your message.  When writing for the web, or your Intranet, remember: people don’t read – they skim the content.  Make it short, sweet, and skim-able.

Steve Jobs, the Master of Simplicity, relayed the idea when he said, “This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And, we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us, no company is.  And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”  He wasn’t talking about internal communications, but rather about marketing Apple’s products.  Nevertheless, the same principle applies.  Keep it simple.

“Minimalism” is about eliminating distractions.  As eloquently stated by Joshua Becker in his book, Simplify, “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things that we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”  Like Jobs, Becker wasn’t referring to internal communications, but again, the principle applies.  Effective communication is clear, concise, and uncluttered.

For more about simplicity, minimalism, and communication, check out Knowledge Management and the Simple Stick.

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.

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