Complex Versus Complicated
If you can’t explain it clearly to a 12-year old, it’s too complicated.
There is a running joke about ideas and processes in our company:
“If JT can’t understand it, then it’s no good.”
I understand complexity if you explain it to me in a clear fashion.
If the explanation is complicated?
Whatever you’re talking about might as well not exist.
We all laugh about it here, but it’s true—and here’s an example.
I had a meeting with our Head of Marketing to discuss our goals for the coming quarters and how much we would need to spend.
He talked to me about SEO, omnichannel, organic traffic, and digital transformation.
“I don’t understand a word you just said,” I told him.
I do understand that digital marketing is complex. I get that there are metrics to track and human behaviors to consider.
But that doesn’t mean the explanation as to how it works—and more importantly, how it works for us—should be complicated.
There is a reason that CMOs and others in marketing are some of the first to go in a layoff situation—no one truly understands what they’re doing.
I’m not just picking on marketing here. There are a number of specialists who talk in complicated jargon when they explain what it is they do.
Why do they do this?
They’re protecting their jobs. They think by throwing out terminology they validate the complexity of what they do, and they’re seen as an invaluable resource.
In reality, they’re making what they do harder to comprehend—and that does not scale.
How can a company justify spending money and resources on processes they don’t understand?
How does that serve the company as a whole and allow them to grow?
I’ve written in this space before that I never went to college. I barely got my GED.
Someone who I greatly respect told me that not having gone to college was a great benefit to me.
He told me college sometimes complicates things for people. They’re taught complex subjects in complicated ways, and when they enter the working world, they bring all that complication with them.
I grew up in chaos—in poverty, violence, and abuse. The last thing I wanted from life was more complications.
The only way out of my situation was to understand things like business and investing in the simplest ways possible.
I had to see through to the raw truth of life and deal with it at that level.
It’s no different for me now, as a leader serving my Tribe.
If I can’t understand our processes at the most basic levels, no matter how complex they are, then I won’t spend our hard-earned money on those initiatives.
That means we make our explanations as simple as possible.
In order to scale our business, we have to ensure that our processes—especially the complex ones—are clear.
Our Head of Marketing understood what I meant and explained his goals and plans to reach them in a way that I could comprehend them without justifying the intricacies of his job.
When we remember that clarity is kindness, we can always keep things simple—no matter how complex they are.
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