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  • Writer's pictureChuck Cusumano

Simplicity is Key

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus


Or rather: keep it simple, stupid.

It is an acronym that most of us have heard before. By all accounts, it was started in the United States military and while it might not be politically correct in our modern, everyday conversation, it is something we think is important to understand.

So, what exactly does it mean?

Keep it simple, stupid.

Essentially, if you cannot explain what you are doing or what you expect in simple terms, you probably do not understand the subject all that well yourself.

Explaining things simply is not hard, but explaining complex systems or complicated situations in a simple way can prove to be challenging for anyone who is not knowledgeable in their trade or craft.

This is a concept that has been discussed overtly through the ages.

Professor Albert Einstein reportedly said, "If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.

Warren Buffett said, "The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.”

Simplicity is not a new idea—but it is an effective one.

Keeping it Simple to Grow a Company

Simplicity has also proven to be a timeless business method for successful entrepreneurs and business owners. One of the most prominent examples of successful simplicity? Jack Welch.

In 1981, Jack Welch was promoted to CEO of General Electric.

Under his leadership, GE increased its market valuation from $14 billion in 1981 to $410 billion in 2001 – an increase of 4000% – earning him a title of "Manager of the Century" from Fortune and the "CEO of CEOs" from Forbes Magazine.

Upon his retirement from GE in 2001, Jack Welch was awarded a severance estimated at $420 million – the highest severance ever paid to a CEO at the time.

How did all of this happen? Welch grew GE with a mindset for simplicity.

He was known for building one of the most successful HR departments the corporate world had ever seen. His system for evaluating talent – “4Es and a P” – was a model dedicated to simplicity. The model allowed GE to identify and develop some of the best and brightest business leaders of the time with its simplicity.

Keeping things simple and building rapport among the different functions within GE was one of the business methodologies that helped keep the constantly expanding company from collapsing under its own weight of complexity.

When Jack Welch retired in 2001, GE was the largest company in the world (in terms of revenue), much like Amazon or Apple of today.

When Mark Miller, VP of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A, was describing a story that Steve Kerr – former VP of Leadership Development and Chief Learning Officer at GE during Jack Welch’s time – told at a leadership conference at Chick-fil-A, Kerr said, “The day Jack Welch understood this equation is the day he became a great leader.

The equation Kerr was referring to? Q X A = E.

The Formula for Simplicity & Success

Q X A = E

Q – quality of an idea

A – acceptance of an idea, and

E – effectiveness of the original idea.

By this equation’s standards, an idea’s effectiveness is based on how well it is formulated and communicated, then multiplied by how many people accept the idea.

Therefore, since A is the multiplier in the equation, it is much more beneficial to increase the acceptance rate of an idea if you want the idea to be effective.

In other words, a simple process (idea) with a high acceptance rate (people actually using the idea) will result in a much more effective outcome.

Or, as we like to say, keep it simple, stupid. Why? Because a great idea multiplied by 0 acceptance ultimately equals 0 value.

We love the simplicity of the formula – and it works. So often, we see organizations put together a new process that may solve a business challenge, but because the new process was not communicated effectively or it was too complex to enact, it might never be fully adopted into use and the resulting outcome solves nothing.

To further complicate the issue, management usually then adds an additional process to ensure accountability for the first process because it is not being used.

In either case, it results in wasted time, squandered energy, and diminished credibility of management.

So, how exactly do you KISS?

  1. Clearly define the problem.

  2. Solicit feedback from the individuals that are closest to the problem.

  3. Brainstorm your ideas and develop the process to correct the problem.

  4. And most importantly, be relentless in simplifying the process to the fewest steps possible – even if it does not 100% solve the problem. (It is better to have a 75% solution that is 95% adopted than to have a 98% solution that is 65% adopted). The goal is to get your adoption rate as close to 100% as possible—then you can add steps to your process as needed.

Why is this method so critical? There are two concepts that we advise and consult our clients to chase after.

First, if you can get everyone (or as close to 100% as possible) doing the same thing in the same way, then you eliminate other variables. Even if you have your team going in the wrong direction, it is easier to correct them when they are unified. That being said, if you have 65% of them going in one direction and the rest in another, it is hard to determine if your solution is working.

Secondly, if the solution is so simple that everyone can do it and adopt it, you build up organizational inertia. Once you have that momentum, you can add additional steps and procedures. Ideally, the additional steps or procedures will have a much higher acceptance rate because they are not an entirely new process, just an addition to what the team has already been doing.

It is often said in marketing circles that if you can convey your message on a bumper sticker, then you have achieved its purest form.

Our recommendation? If you are experiencing too much complexity, a loss of accountability, or just a failure to execute on a consistent basis, try this bumper sticker: DO LESS, BETTER.

Once you have achieved better, work up from there.

If you need assistance implementing the KISS process – or just with the bumper sticker of DO LESS, BETTER – reach out to us at

We are always here to help, listen, and make changes!

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