We Love Simplicity, But Do We Know What It Really Means?

Simplicity is essential to doing your best, most meaningful work. Discover how to simplify the crush of emails in your inbox and meetings on your schedule with these four guidelines.

Lisa Bodell:  Everyone says that they want to innovate but then myself and my teams would go into companies and the very people that hired us to come in and help them innovate were the very people that were holding us back from doing it when we got there. And I thought why? And it was this whole idea of risk, fear, power, control, risk aversion. And I started to ask everybody that I met a very simple question to get at the problem of why people were not able to innovate the way that they should. Here was the question: I asked them what do you spend your day doing? And do you know what the answer was? I wasn't surprised by the uniqueness of the answer, I was surprised by the absolute consistency of it.

So if I talked to let's say 100,000 people a year across all different countries, companies, industries, levels within the organization and I asked them what did they spend their day doing? Do you know what they say? Meetings and emails. Now, I believe that people get up everyday to do meaningful things. I don't have a single friend that wakes up, looks at their inbox and feels extra popular because they have more people that have contacted them. People don't want to spend their day doing that, they want to work on work that matters. So I think that getting to work that is simpler and eliminating those complexities or mundane tasks are not just going to make people more productive at work but they're going to be more satisfied, they're going to have a sense of purpose and our businesses, the results that we have there, are going to be dramatically better because of it.

So what I did is I tried to come up with a very insistent definition for simplicity and I realize it's less of a definition and more around guidelines and I think there's four components to simplicity. The first is being as minimal as possible. Second is understandable as possible. The third is repeatable as possible. And the final is accessible as possible. Now, most people just think of the first part minimal, making it less than. And I think that that's true, but there's so much more than just that. Being able to minimize something, get rid of parts, that's a good first step with simplicity. The second piece is understandable and that really gets to clarity. We use so much jargon, so many catch phrases, so many more words than we need to making it as understandable as possible so we can get time back is key. The next thing is repeatable. And repeatable is important so we stop making everything so custom, so one off and it also lets us leverage best practices. You want teachers to make things repeatable in a classroom so we benefit from best practices. You want pilots, no matter what cockpit they go into to have the same experience so that they can fly the plane.

And then the last part is accessible. And that's really important because that's about transparency. When you look at companies like Progressive Insurance that made it transparent how they do their pricing versus competitors, that's a real benefit. When you look at Google when they allowed everyone to use their code so others could innovate along with them to make their products better, that's the benefit of making something accessible and simple. So there's more than just making something minimal, if you do those four components, minimal, understandable, repeatable and accessible, that's a great framework for you to approach everything that you do within your work.

What do you at work all day? If the answer is "go to meetings and respond to emails," you are just like the many respondents interviewed by innovation expert Lisa Bodell. That response is remarkably consistent, she says, no matter the country or level of employment, suggesting that global work culture has become homogenized by international markets and communications technology.


Of course nobody's primary interest in their career is attending meetings and answering emails. People want to do meaningful work, and when rote tasks stand in their way, both the organization and individual job satisfaction suffer. The solution, says Bodell, is simplicity. But simplicity means more than minimalism, and simply stripping processes down doesn't guarantee real simplicity, which is defined by four key components:

First, be as minimal as possible, meaning get rid of extraneous parts. If you have a weekly meeting, can you do it biweekly? If you answer emails throughout the day, can you reserve one half hour in the morning and one in the afternoon, allowing the rest of your time to be spent doing meaningful work?

Second, be as understandable as possible. Confusing email chains and unspecific instruction can waste employees' valuable time, so be clear with your instruction and responses, and if you don't know the answer, simply say you'll revisit the issue at a later time.

Third, be repeatable as possible. As Bodell says: "You want teachers to make things repeatable in a classroom so we benefit from best practices. You want pilots, no matter what cockpit they go into to have the same experience so that they can fly the plane."

Finally, be as accessible as possible. Transparency is a good way to win customers and, in our age of democratized media, leveraging the power and wisdom of the crowd by creating open-source products is a way to scale innovation.

Lisa Bodell's book isWhy Simple Wins.

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Facebook's misinformation isn't just a threat to democracy. It's endangering lives.

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  • Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
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LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.

The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.

LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy

According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.

LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.

In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."

What Facebook’s policy risks 

Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.

But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.

"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.

Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism

To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.

It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.

But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.