Shaquille O’Neal on Simplicity

I once worked with a CEO who said that the most important part of his job was keeping it simple. Simple communication. Simple instructions. Simple plans.

Consider the great basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal. Before a game, a reporter once asked him what it was going to take to win. He poetically said, “I think the winner is going to be the team that scores the most points.”

Shaq could have lectured on the technical in’s and out’s of the team’s strategy, or what he observed in the game footage that would affect his tactics. Instead, he broke the game down to its simplest form – the winner will have the most points.

In the workplace, research has found that complexity is killing innovation. When asked to rank 21 workplace tasks by their overall simplicity, respondents ranked promoting an innovative idea as 18th. Overly complex tasks do not tend to get done, so how many innovative ideas are being lost because of bureaucracy? Consequently, companies that embrace simplicity are more likely to:

  • have readily available information for employees to share,
  • adopt the latest technology,
  • reward employees for new ideas, and
  • promote based on performance (vs office politics).

As a leader, when someone asks you a question, try to avoid the half hour tutorial. What is the most concise, yet thorough, response? If the team needs a plan, start with an overview before going knee deep in your gantt charts. If they need backstory, weed out the extraneous information and stick with what’s relevant.

Think this sounds easy? Give it a shot. Keeping it simple may be the most complex thing you do today.

If you don’t stick to simplicity, you’ll die a horrible death.  — Shaq