Steve Jobs’ #1 design principle transformed everyday life

Steve Jobs believed in simplicity. Simplicity was his guiding principle for creating any product. It is much more powerful than you think.

When a team of Apple’s top product designers met with Steve Jobs to present their design for what became iDVD—a now-defunct application that allowed users to burn music, movies, and digital photo files stored on their computers onto a physical DVD—they expected their boss to be wowed. It was a beautiful, clean design, and while it had plenty of features and functions, they were proud of how they had simplified the original version of the product, which had required a thousand-page user manual.

But, as the team soon learned, Jobs had something else in mind. He walked over to the whiteboard and drew a rectangle. Then he said, “That’s it.”This is the new application. It has a window. You drag the video to the window. Then you click on the button that says BURN. That’s all. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

For entrepreneurs, simplicity is king. We strive to design products that are easy to use, services that are easy to access, websites and apps that are easy to navigate, and so on. When it comes to the end product or customer experience, we have elevated simplicity to an art form.

So why is so much of what we do every day still riddled with so much complexity?

We have become so accustomed to the complexity of all the processes in our lives that we barely realize it… Worse still, we create it involuntarily: faced with what should be simple problems, we look for more complex solutions to solve them. Then, frustrated by the complexity of those solutions, we look for new ways to make that complex problem easy again.

As this vicious cycle continues, we add layer after layer of complexity.

This is especially true when it comes to scaling an organization, which inevitably leads to an expansion of complexity everywhere. Processes become cumbersome. Coordination within and between teams takes more time and effort. Work that used to be straightforward suddenly becomes maddeningly and unnecessarily complicated.

But once we peel back the unnecessary layers of complexity, priority tasks that once seemed so overwhelmingly difficult suddenly seem doable. This is true for virtually everything, from designing and launching a new product, to entering a new market, to leading a rapidly growing team.

In my first book, I argued that identifying what is essential requires a system of ruthless prioritization. But as I write in my new book, Effortless, to actually get those essential things done requires ruthless simplification. Here are some tips:

Last year, I launched a podcast. At first, the instructions I was supposed to send to each guest who joined me on the podcast consisted of fifteen steps. It was overwhelming for me to even read them, let alone get the guests to follow them and do them.

So I started from scratch, and I asked myself: “What is the minimum number of steps someone could take to chat with me through this program?”.Once I had the answer, I reduced the process to two simple steps.

When we are faced with an immensely complicated process or project, our instinct is to try to reduce it. But what if we approached it from the opposite angle and started with a blank slate?

You’d be surprised how many seemingly complex goals can be achieved, and how many seemingly complex tasks can be completed, in just a few steps. So start at zero and determine the minimum number of steps from there.

In a tiny but pivotal moment in IBM’s legendary turnaround, then-CEO Lou Gerstner invited Nick Donofrio, one of its executive leaders, to speak at a meeting about the state of the company. At that time, the standard format for any major IBM presentation included overhead projectors and overhead graphics that IBM employees called “sheets.”

As Gerstner recalls, «Nick was on his second film when I approached the table and, as politely as I could in front of his equipment, I turned off the projector. After a long moment of awkward silence, I simply said, ‘Let’s talk about your business.’ «

That’s the goal of most presentations: “just talk about your business.” So the next time you have to create a pitch deck, present sales figures, or give a progress report, resist the temptation to add extra bells and whistles. They are not only a distraction for you, but also for your audience. That’s why when I give presentations, I use six slides, with less than ten words in total.

You may have already removed unnecessary features from your product. Now do the same with your processes, your presentations, and everything else.

Too often, we try to simplify our processes by simplifying individual steps. But what if we just delete them?

Unnecessary steps are just that: unnecessary. Eliminating them allows you to channel all your energy towards completing the important project. In almost all areas, finishing is infinitely better than superfluous steps that add no value.

One of the twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto says: “Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential”By this they mean that the goal is to create value for the customer, and if this can be done with less code and fewer features, that is exactly what you should do.

While this is referring to the software development process, we can adapt it to any everyday process. Whatever your end goal, remember: the easiest steps are the ones that aren’t taken.