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!

Shibumi: Subtle Beauty

Shibumi is a Japanese word that refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle and unobtrusive beauty. It can be used to describe a person, place or thing, naturally occurring or man-made. I love to observe and photograph shibumi and below you will find a few of the more spectacular manifestations I have been privileged to witness.

Ice on my Car Hood by Gregg Hake
British Columbia Reflections by Gregg Hake
Winter Branches by Gregg Hake
Mushroom UFO by Gregg Hake
View from Above by Gregg Hake
Tree Silhouette by Gregg Hake
Endless Waves by Gregg Hake

Simple, uncomplicated beauty can be found in the most unremarkable places. You needn’t construct a marvelous temple or an impressive tower to connect with it, in fact, all you have to do is open your eyes and soften your heart to shibumi.

Keep it Simple

You’ve all no doubt heard the acronym K.I.S.S., which stands for “keep it simple stupid.”  It is a concept often touted but seldom heeded  in marketing, in public speaking, in systems development, in boardrooms, in classrooms, in the world of medicine and health care and just about every other department of human life.

Alan Siegel, a branding expert, makes an interesting case for keeping things simple in this short but sweet TED presentation:

Think about your world for a minute.  Are there areas of your life that are weighed down by complexity?  Your relationships, for example?  Your schedule?  Your outlook on life?  If it isn’t simple, it typically isn’t clear.  

Simplicity is attractive.  It is appealing.  It compels participation.  Did you catch Mr. Siegel’s slide quoting Thomas Jefferson?  It said “When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it.”  Whether you are for or against the original intent of the recently “deemed and passed” health care overhaul, you must agree that nothing of its 4,000 plus pages is anything close to simple.

Keep your world simple and call for simplicity in the world around you.  Far too many simple things are overly complicated by faulty human intervention.  Complexity is valuable, but it certainly has its place. 

Have a great, and hopefully not overly complicated, day!