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Simplicity by Peter Fisk


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Extract from "Creative Genius: The Innovation Handbook for Business Leaders" by Peter Fisk ... Find out more about the book at and support in making innovation happen in your business at

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Simplicity by Peter Fisk

  1. 1. +genius Simplicity In an extract from his book “Creative Genius: The Innovation Handbook for Business Leaders” Peter Fisk looks at the power of making things simpler. Innovation is about making people’s lives better. Physicist Paul Dirac said that beauty should be the first criteria to look for in a new scientific theory. Beauty, he said is about elegance, naturalness, pleasure and simplicity. In design, we seek to create a beautiful solution, not only in its outward appearance, but in the way in which it solve a problem, and make life better. Simplicity is about making things simpler (simple!). Sometimes simpler is the best possible way to be better. In his book The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda, reflected on the world around him to find that success was often about less rather than more, that people responded better to clear propositions even if they were less good than more complex ones, and making things faster or easier can often be when of the best ways to add value and stand out from the crowd. He developed 10 principles 1. Reduce ... the simplest way to simplify. Consumer electronics are intimidating because they can do so much, when all you want to do are the simple things. But then sometimes you want to more. Finding the balance is
  2. 2. +genius achieved through thoughtful reduction, watching how users behave, and thinking laterally, like Jonathan Ive did so successfully with his clickwheel. 2. Organise ... making lots appear like little There’s nothing more annoying than a cluttered home or office. You could just throw everything out - the paperless office, the brochure-image home, but that’s often not practical. But it’s amazing how organising things helps. Piles of paper sorted neatly into 5 categories suddenly seems manageable, a wardrobe organised into shirts, trousers, jackets suddenly seems refreshed. 3. Time ... speeding up, saving time We typically spend an hour a day waiting in a queue. And when we get served, we spend more minutes not knowing what is taking time. We hate waiting, and because of that we love speed. We marvel at the overnight delivery capability of Fedex, or the speed of the Drive-Thru McDonalds. Waiting time seems complex, saving time seems simple. 4. Learn ... knowledge beats ignorance There is nothing worse than spending hours trying to make a new device work, knowing how to connect it to the internet, knowing how to use the applications on it, knowing how to synchronise it with other devices. We jump in with eyes closed, four different experiments all at the same time. Sometimes taking time to read the guidebook is time saved in the longer run. 5. Differences ... simplicity needs complexity Recognising alternatives helps us to focus on what matters most. Contrast is good. We appreciate good food because we sometimes experience bad food. We want to save time because so many activities take so long. The more complicated the technology, the more we crave simplicity. The more complexity there is in a market, the more that simplicity stands on. 6. Context ... don’t just focus on the obvious Looking to the periphery of what you are addressing is as important as the main thing. A good looking product deserves a good looking box. Excellence in customer service relates to the car park as much as the service desk. Looking more broadly across the customer’s experience, or broader solutions usually offers more scope to make things simpler. 7. Emotion ... be human and personal Empathy, body language, words, a smile, are all things which can take away the fear and frustration of complexity. Aesthetic and ergonomic design looks and feels good. Knowing that you are in it together, is much better than feeling alone. Knowing that somebody is there to help, is always reassuring. Add more humanness, more warmth, more personalisation to every interaction. 8. Trust ... in simplicity we trust We trust what we can understand, and we don’t trust what we don’t. We trust it to work without complex problems, but we like it more too. Bang and Olufssen develop premium
  3. 3. +genius electronics devices which look simpler than any of its rivals, and we trust it more. Alessi turns complicated ideas into simple designs and we trust them more. 9. Failure ... some things can never be simple Some things can never be simple. Google’s algorithms which enable us to make sense of the unbelievably complex networks of knowledge are never going to be simple, but the complexity results in simple search results. The power of nanotechnology, is too mindboggling to even think about, but the results are simpler, easier techniques and applications. 10. The One ... subtract the obvious, add the meaningful Simplicity is incredible subtle. It depends how you see it, standing close up or from a distance. It depends on what else matters to you, in your work and life. In a frantically busy and cluttered world it only takes one or two things to make our lives so much easier. Simplicity should actually be quite simple, don’t make it too complicated. John Maeda ... the digital artist in search of simple ideas At first glance, John Maeda doesn't seem all that intimidating - a quiet, easy going kind of guy with a quick sense of humour, and vast wardrobe of T-shirts, perhaps a computer science geek. Yet he is also a world-renowned graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab, and President of the Rhode Island School of Design. Esquire magazine named him as one of their “21 most important people for the twenty-first century” Maeda is most famous for his pursuit of simplicity, and the use of electronic media to express ideas through graphic designs which are educational and beautiful. He is a digital artist, part of a new generation that connects creativity and technology in both innovative and aesthetic ways. Some see him as a 21st century Renaissance man - reconciling the design world's competing demands for creativity and pragmatism, uniqueness and mass-marketability. He is the Japanese American son of a Seattle tofu maker is still finds his fame and elevated positions difficult to comprehend. "America is a weird country” he says. “It's like I was a waitress somewhere, and now I'm in a movie. A futuristic astronaut cast in a new kind of wild west picture” The word genius is often, although embarrassingly for him, associated with Maeda. Whilst he sees MIT as the hub for left-brained technology research, Rhode Island is the right-branded antithesis for creativity and design. Inevitable, he loves the fusion. He recognises the distinction and seeks to retain the polarity, but as a person wants to embrace both. He believes that innovation in forthcoming years will be a lot less about technology and much more about design. “Art humanizes technology and makes it understandable. Design is needed to make sense of information overload. It is why art and design will rise in importance during this century as we tryve to make sense of all the possibilities that digital technology now affords” he wrote on his blog, giving Apple as the best example. But he also sees innovation as being about the “integrity of the work” the discipline and attention to detail from start to finish. This is why he admires Jonathan Ive so much, for his approach even more than his stratospheric deliverables. He wants Rhode Island School
  4. 4. +genius of Design to be one of the “few remaining places where thinking matters as much as making” and encourages students to think more broadly, as well as get their hands dirty. Maeda, like many others, believes that the business world has become too left-brain in its thinking, focused on logic and reasoning – on science and technology, engineering and maths - STEM as he calls it. He thinks that its time for more right-brain thinking too, or IDEA as he abbreviates it - intuition, design, emotion and art. , as critical to future economic development. Simplicity he believes, lies in the combination of both sides of our brains, and “in our hands to make it real”. He muses on what it is that Apple has that others don’t - the je ne sais quoi that draws us in. “I'm beginning to think that it's not just that they understand the power of simplicity, or the power of software. It's that you can see they were born from a person, from two dirty hands, from just a little bit of technology, and from a massively powerful IDEA.” © Peter Fisk 2013 Peter Fisk is a global branding, marketing and innovation expert. He is founder and CEO of the Genius Works, the accelerated innovation firm. He is a business advisor, speaker, and best-selling author of six books including People Planet Profit, Creative Genius, and Gamechangers to be published in 2014. For more about this book, explore For more about Peter, go to