Simplicity summary

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Simplicity Principles

(From: Edward de Bono, “Simplicity”, Penguin Books, 1999

1. You need to put a high value on simplicity. To get simplicity you have to want to get it. To want to get simplicity you have to put a high value on simplicity.

2. You must be determined to seek simplicity. People quite like simplicity if it does not cost anything but are usually unwilling to invest resources in making something more simple.

3.You need to understand the matter very well. If you do not seek to understand a situation or process, your efforts will be ‘simplistic’ rather than simple. Simplicity before understanding is worthless.

4. You need to design alternatives. It is not a matter of designing the ‘one right way’. It is more a matter of designing alternatives and possibilities, and then selecting one of them.

5. You need to challenge and discard existing elements. Everything needs to justify its continued existence. If you wish to retain something for the sake of tradition let that be a conscious decision.

6. You need to be prepared to start over again. In the search for Simplicity, modify if you can – start afresh if you cannot.

7. You need to use concepts. Concepts are the human mind’s way of simplifying the world around. Warning: If you do not use concepts, then you are working with detail.

8. You may need to break things down into smaller units. The organisation of a smaller unit is obviously simpler than the organisation of a large unit. The smaller units are themselves organised to serve the larger purpose.

9. You need to be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity. A system that seeks to be totally comprehensive may be very complex. You may need to trade off that comprehensiveness for simplicity.

10. You need to know for whose sake the simplicity is being designed. A shift of complexity may mean that a system is made easier for the customer but much more complicated for the operator.

Simplicity Tools - Extracts

(from: Edward de Bono, “Simplicity”, Penguin Books, 1999

1. Historical review: Look at how something came to be and deciding if parts of it are still necessary.

Tradition may be a good reason for continuing to do something when there is no other reason. But you must acknowledge that reason.

That some way of doing things has survived over time does not mean that it is the best way or the simplest way. It may only mean that no one has yet tried to find a better way.

2. Shedding, trimming, cutting, slimming, etc: Get rid of things that can’t justify their presence (start from zero base).

In this approach we seek to 'shed' something completely, not to find an alternative way of doing it. Minor adjustments may need to be made.

You challenge the idea that it needs doing at all or that this is the only way of doing it.

3. Listening: Listen to people who at ‘sharp’ end. They can have useful suggestions on what is useful or not.

The people who are actually using the process may well have developed short cuts and simplifications over time.

Simplification can arise from knowing the job intimately; from a 'standback' perspective; or even from an innocent look at the job.

4. Combining: Combine functions that presently separate. “kill 2 birds with 1 stone’.

Functions are usually separate because they have been designed separately and no one has thought of them as a whole.

5. Extracting concepts: Extract the underlining concept behind some action/ process and then find another simpler way of developing the concept.

You cannot think of alternatives without there being a background concept in your mind.

What is the operating concept here? How else can we put that concept into action?

Once you have extracted the concept you can clarify it, improve it, change it and redesign it. It is essential to work with the middle level of concepts. Concepts that are too broad lead nowhere. Concepts that are too narrow lead only down that narrow path.

6. Bulk and exceptions: Design a simpler way for the bulk of cases, and make special provision for ‘exceptions’.

Systems that seek to cover all exceptions make it immensely complicated for the bulk of people who are not exceptions.

It is never a matter of designing for the bulk of users and ignoring the exceptions. It is a matter of designing two specific channels: one for the bulk of users and one for the exceptions. Both need to be well designed.

7. Restructuring: Fundamentally restructuring what is being done. Likely more radical then shedding non essential elements.

If you are too good at adjusting to the current system you may never realize that the system needs changing.

Almost any proposed model for change can stimulate thinking about things which need to be thought about. This may be more important than the proposed model.

8. Start afresh: Go to beginning and start again. Design around key values and priorities

Fundamental restructuring gets very close to starting afresh. Forget what we now have, what are the values we want to deliver? How are we going to deliver them?

The design process consists of knowing where you want to go, finding ways of getting there and considering the various factors involved.

You can never improve the quality of your final choice by limiting the range of alternatives. Know how to generate alternatives and know how to choose between them.

The scan of considerations should be as broad as possible but with a clear sense of priorities and relative importance.

9. Modules and smaller units: Simplify by breaking complex issue into small units (modules, decentralize). Design each unit in own right.

The organization of the human body depends on tiny sub-units called cells. Each cell has its own organization but also fits into the total organization both in terms of maintenance and also moment to moment action. Decentralization may lead to simplicity in operation but increased complexity in administration.

Modules need to be specifically designed. Modules are more than just parts of the whole.

It is essential to be very clear where, why and for whose benefit simplicity is being sought.

10. Provocative amputation: Remove some element from the process/ thing and then see how it works without it.

We do not challenge elements to justify their existence, we just 'amputate' elements arbitrarily and then look to see what happens.

Like many of the other approaches, the 'amputation' process forces us to look more closely at what we take for granted.

The first idea that comes to mind may not be so interesting but the second and third ideas that flow from it can be very interesting.

11. Wishful thinking: Design ideal simple ‘thing/ process’ and start with that.

In lateral thinking 'wishful thinking' should be an extreme fantasy. In the simplication process wishful thinking can be more realistic. Why can't we use this ideal approach?

Wishful thinking does have to go beyond a known alternative. It is not just a matter of suggesting an alternative approach. The thought must lead reality forward.

12. Shift energies: make the process simpler for one set of role-players while potentially making it more complex for another set of role-players (or use technology to make it simpler).

There is a shift of the energy absorbing complication to a computer, a machine or someone else.

Simplification for you may be achieved by increased complication elsewhere.

13. Ladder approach: Work incrementally, step by step. At each step consider what needs to be done to get to next step.

We should not assume that simplicity always depends on major changes. Slight changes in small things can some times make things much simpler.

People who are not very good at having new ideas might be very good at indicating where new ideas are badly needed.

14. Flavour approach: Opposite of ladder approach. Similar to start afresh approach. Start with broad ‘flavours’, and explore totally new ways of doing things.

In order to free ourselves from the constraints of what is now being done, we can start with a very broad approach to the whole purpose of the operation.

We are not trying to find new approaches as such but new approaches which are simpler. Simplicity is the value being sought.

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