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Book Review: Simplify Work

Feb. 11, 2019
As new technology such as the IoT creates more complex systems, simplifying work will take on greater value.

Anyone who has ever worked for a large company—or watched parodies of doing so, a la “The Office” or “Office Space”—is aware of some of the ridiculousness that can occur in the corporate world. Outdated management practices, putting time into things that seem valueless, and poor communications all come to mind. But while entertainment makes inefficiencies seem whimsical and funny, in the real world companies are losing money, focus, and possibly business.

As technology moves faster and IoT, Big Data, and Machine Learning continue to grow, the Keep it Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.)  method will become increasingly important. As companies grow often so does their complexity. Eventually, we end up spending more time on documenting, budgeting, and random meetings than actions associated with our actual job descriptions.

Now as we move into a faster-paced world with the IoT, some companies are trying to pair yesterday’s business practices with today’s technology. While this might work, it isn’t taking full advantage of the technology’s capabilities. A new book by Jesse Newton, Simplify Work, walks through some examples and questions to ask with the aim of discovering a simpler way.

According to the book, a good place to start is knowing how to ask the right questions. Sometimes these might be simple:

  • Do we really need a coordinating function between these groups?
  • Do we need to report this frequently?
  • Do we need this many approvals?
  • Do I really need to attend that meeting?

Employees in complex redundant systems can become frustrated and inundated, which can further blur what is important to the business or an individual’s goals. This can make talent acquisition and retention difficult. If you are hiring competent professionals, let them do their job. Having to report to multiple managers, being looped into e-mail chains that are unnecessary, or even dealing with IoT-associated technology that offers unnecessary notifications can be distractions from valuable work.

Companies that have found success in simplicity include Amazon, with its simple platform base; Apple, with its idea of keeping teams small; and Elon Musk’s entities, which encourage open communication enabling employees to go directly to the person they need to talk to without having to follow the chain of command. In all of these cases, extraneous unnecessary approvals and distracting e-mails are limited.    

Some other examples: Dassault’s 3D Experience Innovation Lab in Wichita State University has collaborative rooms that are designed to have no more than eight people. Festo started a Bionics program where a small group of employees are given all the resources they need to figure out how to build robotic animals.

However, simplicity  goes beyond small groups, resources, and letting professionals be professionals. For example, Bosch has ActiveCockpit, which acts as a digital whiteboard to make sure anyone who misses meetings has access to it, and that people who don’t need to attend can be easily sent any information specific to them. This means you don’t have to attend every meeting, but if you miss one that you should have been at, you have access to the information.

In addition, many companies (such as Jabil) are designing complex dashboards to organize the massive amount of data being collected from the IoT into just the important information and trends. It is important to reduce distractions and notifications from your phone, e-mail, or meeting reminders, which can easily can pile up.

If you are a minimalist working in a large complex cooperation, don’t worry—you’re not crazy. Common sense and simplifying things works well. Simplify Work starts right off by laying out your gameplan:

  • Get clear on the purpose
  • Organize
  • Reduce

This book can help you find ease in a complex company. But even if you like complexity and meetings, you should also try reading this book. You may be able to work less and accomplish more when you start asking the right questions. As new technology such as the IoT progresses, simplicity will become more valuable and offer competitive advantages.

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