Category Archives: Simplicity

The Easiest Way to Change Behavior with Craig Ferguson

There is so much written about the ways a leader can enact behavior change. We can discuss the power of social norms, habit formation, change management, or any number of behavior modification techniques, but maybe that’s overthinking it. Maybe Craig Ferguson has found the simplest, more effective solution.

In a recent interview, television host, comedian, director, and author Craig Ferguson discussed one particular behavior that he’s worked to improve—being a good person—and how his “complex” methodology has helped:

I do not believe that thought makes behavior; I believe that behavior makes thought. So if you want to be a good person, job number one: Do something nice. Resist the temptation to be a dick. And then, very quickly, the universe will stop making you a dick. You’ll stop feeling like a dick because you’re not acting like a dick. If you don’t act like a dick, you’re not a dick. Sometimes I want to do some really awful shit, but I don’t do it, therefore, I’m not in jail.

I could write an essay on why this approach will work, but the lesson is clear—if you act a certain way, you are more likely to become that way. We can question sincerity or the problems associated with pretending, but the truth remains that change follows action, and nothing changes without action.

So if you want to enact behavior change, start making the change. You want to be considered a leader who empowers others? Start empowering them. You want to be considered ethical? Act ethically. If your goal is to be a better leader, don’t over analyze it; take action.

The Ramones on Simplistic Communication

ramones linkedinOne of the most difficult endeavors for smart, hard working leaders is to communicate complex ideas in the simplest possible manner. You aren’t doing this because your staff are less intelligent; you are utilizing uncomplicated vocabulary because most people do not have your level of context, experience, or expertise. It’s like being The Ramones of your workplace.

The Ramones are one of the original punk bands from the 1970s punk rock movement. Besides being one of my all-time favorite bands, they are listed among Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.” Spin magazine ranked The Ramones as the second greatest band of all time and they received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

One reason The Ramones were so great is their definitive sound. Unlike the popular music of the time, their style was based upon a simplified ensemble of high energy melodies with straightforward lyrics. The Ramones avoided being heavily produced, instead opting for an approach where you feel as if you are listening to them in a garage. This makes their songs intimate, down-to-earth, and relatable.

In 1974 everything was tenth-generation Elton John, or overproduced, or just junk. Everything was long jams, long guitar solos… We missed music like it used to be.—Joey Ramone

Intimate, down-to-earth, and relatable is how we should all strive to communicate. We may know bigger words and the minute intricacies of our intentions, but this does not make you appear intelligent; it makes you appear disconnected from the culture.

[The Ramones] pared things down to greatest simplicity, and do as well as they could to find basic truth.—Marc Miller, “punk curator” for the Queens Museum

In his TEDTalk Towards a Science of Simplicity, Harvard professor George Whitesides broke ‘simple’ into three characteristics:

  1. They are predictable
  2. They are accessible
  3. They serve as building blocks

Simple ideas are predictable so people can foresee the future and help make it happen. Simple ideas are accessible so people find them to be probable and winnable. And simple ideas serve as building blocks so people can learn in an organized, strategic manner where each new concept builds on an already understood concept.

ramones thumbThere are plenty of leaders whose messages are long-winded and overly edited to the point where sincerity (and clarity) are lost. Dub yourself Leader Ramone and communicate in spurts of simple thoughts. Your team will buy-in more quickly with more engagement and more comprehension. A straightforward approach will also enhance the alignment of the teams’ expectations and enrich their level of trust in your leadership abilities.

Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

Tiny House Hunters and the Minimalist Leader

Tiny House Hunters1The following is from guest writer, Ed Russo.

There is a new type of homeowner looking for (literally) less overhead. Those appearing on the HGTV show Tiny House Hunters are seeking a simpler life with less stuff, cheaper rent, and more mobility. Just as businesses are less invested in bricks and mortar so are these new property purchasers. Imagine being forced to part with the majority of your personal belongings in order to fit into a 300 square feet house. I must admit that I’m intrigued by their minimalist philosophy.

In many cases, the homes on Tiny House Hunters have wheels and can be taken to a variety of locations. Mobility is freedom. Growing up in Boston, I remember seeing a sign while sitting in traffic on Storrow Drive that read “If you lived here you’d be home now.” The developer of that community knew the appeal of going and being home instead of suffering in the daily commute.

Size doesn’t always matter – its creativity that counts.—Tiny House Nation, FYI channel

Tiny House Hunters2What can we learn from this trend of having less and doing more? Leaders in the workforce have been living this mantra for a while. There are certainly some benefits to right-sizing. Minimalist Leadership is a practice that strives to eliminate unnecessary tasks that get in the way of actual work. How can the minimalist leader obtain maximum results? What essential tools can you use to lead your team?

Tiny Blueprints: Create a culture of effectiveness and efficiency. It seems cliché but working smarter is more effective than working harder. One tool I recently learned from a seasoned project manager is the “To Don’t” list. We all have used some version of “To Do” lists to organize our work. Taking a few minutes to identify non-priorities that may become time-suckers and get in the way of actual work is the first step towards efficiency. Encourage your team to set 3-5 priorities for the day and an equal number of distractions to avoid. Could be a coaching opportunity if “surf the internet” or “update Facebook status from weekend” keep ending up on the To Do list.

Leaders need to find the balance between task and relationship. Task-oriented cultures are always trying to do more with less, in which people wear ‘busy-ness’ as a badge of honor. At the end of a task-oriented work day we feel drained and stressed, because there is always more on the to-do list than we can possibly accomplish.—Peggy Brown

Mobile Command Units: Share the goal/mission concisely and consistently. Police and military teams have mastered minimalist leadership by utilizing mobile command units (think Stripes – EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle). Command and control can be maintained wherever an emergency occurs by bringing the office to the field. They go to the work. These mobile command units are fully equipped with all of the essentials. Every emergency management plan includes steps to maintain continuity of business operations. Due to space restrictions, it is critical that only essential tools are taken and unnecessary items left behind. Every available space is utilized including exterior functionality. Not only does it allow the leaders access to tools it ensures one voice – consistent messaging. FEMA uses a Joint Information Center (JIC) that allows public information officers from multiple agencies to unify in a time of crisis. The JIC provides all media outlets with the same information and controls the message.

Choose your Tiny Housemates wisely: Recruit talent & attitude. In order to be a successful minimalist leader you need to have quality people around you who posses the desired skills for your company to be great. Human Resources departments have grown to be sophisticated professional organizations that identify talented prospects from hundreds of applicants. By the time new hires get to you, they have been interviewed, screened, reference and background checked. Let these hires perform and use the expertise they have brought to your organization.

Provide an open Tiny Space to flourish: Get out of the way. Sometimes we cannot get out of our own way. Do not create fake roadblocks for your team. Provide the environment, strategic plan, support and then get out of the way. Companies who are compensated by billable hours to clients have very few meetings. Clients don’t like to pay people to talk about work. They are more interested and invested in actual work. Do the work – stop meeting. If you have to meet, create action items and get out. Regurgitation of status updates that can be found in written reports is ineffective and unnecessary.

Give the ball to Michael (Jordan) and everyone else get the F out of the way.—Doug Collins, Chicago Bulls Coach

The minimalist approach is not an excuse to disengage. It is an opportunity to connect deliberately with your team and your customers in a meaningful way. Limits also inspire creativity and ingenuity. So the challenge this week is to get minimalist. Identify the “To Don’ts” in your life that are keeping you from getting actual work done.


Ed Russo is the Program Manager for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mr. Russo works with educators, law enforcement, community leaders, and government officials to implement child safety resources into schools and communities across the country. Through presentations and trainings, Mr. Russo provides participants with information about how safety resources can help prevent the victimization of children. Prior to joining the Center he was a Human Resources Manager in a Florida County Clerk’s Office and has over 18 years of teaching experience.

Mr. Russo can be contacted through Twitter and LinkedIn.

Curtailing “Look, a Squirrel!” Affliction with Attention Narrowing

SquirrelThe workplace is full of distractions (I received three email alerts and a text in the time it took me to write that first sentence). We are overloaded with conflicting strategies, shifting priorities, and chains of command that look more like a Jackson Pollock painting than a hierarchal pyramid. As a result, we are falling more and more into “Look, a Squirrel!” Affliction.

If you are unfamiliar, “Look, a Squirrel!” is that moment someone is speaking and gets easily distracted: “Yes, I understand the need for – look, a squirrel. You see it? What was I saying?” The “squirrel” can be an email, hunger, or a fleeting thought. It occurs when a brainstorming session goes wildly off topic or when a meeting is diverted by an over-scrutinized minute detail. It can also take place when our trek towards a goal is sidetracked from lost focus.

The need for focus was recently studied in an article for Motivation and Emotion. Researchers examined where runners look during a race. Some were told to focus on a stopping point in the distance, like a cone or tree. Others were told to look around as they naturally would. As expected, the group with sharp concentration fared better – they perceived the cones to be 28% closer, walked 23% faster, and reported that the walk required less physical exertion. This concept of attention narrowing is equally applicable in the workplace.

When people see goals as within reach, it may mobilize action, producing bursts of energy that result in quicker walking times and an experience of ease.

A Harvard study found employees spend 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. That is a lot of potentially wasted time and is why, as leaders, we must make attention narrowing a part of our strategy. Here are three ways to focus your team towards an endpoint.


With all the clutter, it is our responsibility to streamline the team’s goals. Pinpoint a few objectives (no more than 3-5) and communicate them in a way where everyone comprehends the goals’ importance, the steps and milestones to implement, and each member’s responsibilities to ensure its success.

Block Out Noise

The mess may flow downhill, as they say, but that does not mean we have to sit back as it washes away our team. Your staff do not need to be distracted by the pressures and chaos coming down on you. Filter out what they need and present it in a more organized and constructive manner.


Attention narrowing is not the same as tunnel vision. One involves working towards an endpoint while the other blinds you to necessary information. If you are concerned that your team may be heading for a tunnel, give them the chance to breath. Remind them of the broader vision, challenge assumptions, and encourage them on the progress that’s been made.

When squirrels get in the way, it is upon each of us to narrow attention towards the distant target. As shown in the running study, your laser focus will make goals feel closer, increase performance, and result in less mental exertion. There will always be shiny moving objects to distract us from what we are trying to achieve. Limit interference and limit – look, a squirrel. Did you see that? What was I saying?

Jimmy Buffett on Creating a Vision

jimmy buffettI am a self-professed Parrotthead. If you aren’t familiar, Parrottheads are an “elite” group of people who maintain a special appreciation for the world of Jimmy Buffett. His music promotes a lifestyle of cheerful relaxation with allusions of Caribbean beaches, island drinks, and ocean-side hammocks.

This utopic Margaritaville-eque frame of mind provides a powerful vision of what we can all aspire to become. You don’t need a rum-filled concoction to feel the emotions Jimmy’s fostering; it’s a state of being, an image of the future we aspire to acquire. This is no different from the vision we need to promote in our organizations.

The reality is that most company visions are rarely meaningful, lacking adequate time and thought to develop an inspiring direction. However, without a clear goal, the work being done is not accomplishing any long-term goals. How could it when you haven’t defined the long-term goals?

Creating an effective vision starts with looking at the current state of the organization and deciding that it’s just not good enough. For Parrottheads, the trigger can be a tough day at work. For leaders it may be dipping profit margins, the competitor’s accomplishments, or a sense that the team could use a renewed burst of energy. Regardless, the creation of a vision stems in the need to achieve great(er) things.

To craft your masterpiece vision, here are four things to consider:


Vision statements are often confused with mission statements. Mission statements are present-based, intended to express why the organization exists. Vision statements are future-based, intended to inspire and provide a direction for the team. While a mission statement asks, “Why does my business exist?”, a vision statement is more interested in, “Where do I see my business going?”

When drafting your vision statement, start by paying attention to their organization, the industry, and the economic landscape as whole. What are the trends? What’s already been attempted? What can be leveraged? The list of question can go on indefinitely. The point is to study what’s been done, observe the present state, and formulate how the future should look.

No I’m not the first, won’t be the last. You lust for the future, but treasure the past. – Jimmy Buffett, “Barometer Soup”


A well-written vision statement takes little or no explanation. It is clear, concise, and can typically be communicated in one sentence. The more complicated and long-winded it becomes, the less likely people are to understand and remember it. Jimmy has stated that he can simplify his ideology into two words, “island escapism.” Your vision may be a bit longer, but it should be just as easy to interpret and convey. Need a shortcut? Complete the sentence, “We want to…”

Life is complicated with it’s ifs and ands and buts; It’s alright to be crazy just don’t let it drive you nuts. – Jimmy Buffett, “Simply Complicated”


I once saw a vision that was both simple and long-lasting – “We want to make a lot of money.” Everyone in the company understood it, but it did not warm the heart. A great vision should help everyone rise, including employees, customers, and the company. It’s a win/win/win. Employees win because they believe in what the organization stands for and where it is going, customers win because they are receiving exceptional service, and the company wins because its moving towards a vision of success.


Once your vision is written, it’s time to communicate it. Through multiple mediums, Jimmy’s been promoting his vision for an “island frame of mind” for over 40 years. He has albums, live performances, books (for children and adults), hotels, restaurants, and a full line of merchandise. Because of this blitz, Margaritaville is a distinguishable brand.

Don’t rely on any one way to get your vision across. You may not be interested in selling tequila, but you have numerous lines of communication at your disposal. Speeches, emails, posters, memos, meetings can all work. For whichever you choose, repetition is key, as is your dedication to modeling the behaviors you are promoting.

Like a roomful of Parrotheads singing Fins, your vision serves as a focal point of effort. It unifies your team and acts as a catalyst for future growth. If this seems daunting, keep in the mind that the vision is not written in stone. Don’t get to the point where you feel like you’re “wasted away again in Margaritaville.” Your vision will change as the organization changes. If you are re-visiting it every year or so to ensure its relevance, you won’t need to “search for your lost shaker of salt.”