Green Eggs and Ham: The Wages of Simplicity

Why are the simplest things frequently the most influential? I was reading Dr. Seuss to my sons the other day and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the simplicity of his bestselling book, Green Eggs and Ham, a simple book that is, incidentally, one of the best-selling children’s books of all time!

Seuss wrote the book after his publisher, Bennett Cerf, bet him $50 that he could not write a book using only fifty different words. Seuss won the bet, using only the following words:

a
am
and
anywhere
are
be
boat
box
car
could
dark
do
eat
eggs
fox
goat
good
green
ham
here
house
I
if
in
let
like
may
me
mouse
not
on
or
rain
Sam
say
see
so
thank
that
the
them
there
they
train
tree
try
will
with
would
you

Not only did he write the story using fifty words, all but one of the fifty words are monosyllabic. Isn’t that wonderful?

I find that much of my job as CEO of several small business involves helping others to find ways to get the job done, the point across, the product to market, and so on, more simply. When asked why I advocate keeping things simple, I am quick to reply that complicated is expensive, overly-complex is confusing and confusion stops everything.

Every one of us is involved in bringing order out of chaos. Whether you work in marketing, sales, accounting or human resources, your effectiveness depends upon your ability to turn something messy into something presentable. Those who lack that ability are wise to find ways to develop it. So doing can increase your value to your employer, to your family and to the world, exponentially.

I am generally suspicious of people who use big words to dazzle others. They are more often than not trying to hide the fact that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Likewise, I am slower to warm up to those who have not taken the time to distill their thoughts and ideas than I am to someone who has obviously thought the matter through to the best of their ability.

That said, you must take care not to over-simplify. Rarely are things black-and-white; the key is to make things as simple as they are, not simpler. There is a sweet spot in every situation. Get to know it and you will lead an influential life.

Longfellow once said: “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” I am inclined to agree!

19 thoughts on “Green Eggs and Ham: The Wages of Simplicity

  1. Colin

    That’s a great story about Dr. Seuss. I have found that it is always harder to write something that gets your point across while remaining simple, than it is to write some long, complicated, rambling piece. Also, it is easier to write in the passive voice, but that kind of writing will always remain muddled. You can’t be lazy and still have clear, simple, concise thoughts, because they take hard work!

    1. Coco

      Mark Twain agreed with you, one of his most famous quotes was “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

  2. E.C.

    “When asked why I advocate keeping things simple, I am quick to reply that complicated is expensive, overly-complex is confusing and confusion stops everything.” Well said!

      1. Chris Lentz
  3. Isabelle Kearney

    Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. – Einstein

  4. Brad

    Thanks for the post Gregg – great start to a fresh week and words for me to remember with everything i take part in….
    confusion does stop everything & thoughtfullness is appreciated

  5. Joshua

    Our ability to focus and distill matters from our world speaks volumes about where our heart is centered. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” comes to mind and quite often is a phrase that guides me when listening to others. Excellent starting point, Thanks for bringing this to point, our hearts can never be too pure!

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