The Fact and Fiction of Keeping It Simple

We’re on vacation this week, borrowing a small, cottage-like house from some amazingly generous friends.  It’s a quaint little place with a lovely, relaxed feel to it about 200 metres from the ocean and situated by a lovely creek that provides the sound of flowing water to fall asleep to.

Life is much simpler here.  There is no cable TV and no phone.  My only way of being online is via my cellphone or a Wi-Fi hotspot.  We are miles from most of our friends and family, which means that we are on our own to create our entertainment for the day.  Often that turns out to be a walk on the beach, a drive to a new place, sitting outside reading or a good conversation. I find myself using my phone as a camera capturing elements of simple beauty we see on our walks, and then enjoying them over and over again back at the cottage. Being on vacation means no work demands, which allows us the simple pleasure of sleeping in and recharging our batteries.

FACT OR FICTIONAll in all this simpler life is just what we needed.  It has been great to get back to basics and really enjoy each other’s company.  The simple pleasures have been front and centre.  That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been another side to this coin of a simple life though.

Living in such a place means that we are on a septic system.  That brings with it some of its own demands such as shorter showers.  I love to cook, and a fully equipped kitchen provides me with a creative outlet I enjoy a lot.  A simpler kitchen such as this just doesn’t have the array of tools and ingredients that allows that side of me to flourish. We have one suitcase of clothes with us, meaning we are improvising with our wardrobes as the weather and situation dictate.

These reflections moved out from our vacation to a more general view of life, and the oft quoted KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!  For example, my role at work is to look at new ways of doing things.  In doing so I work with a variety of people, and one of my colleagues often asks a question along the lines of “are we making things too complicated here?

I started to wonder about the virtues of keeping things simple and what we might miss along the way if we adhere to this too closely.  Here are some thoughts on  the truths and myths, the fact and fiction, of the KISS principle:

Slide1It is a proven fact that we can only do one thing at a time.  Human beings aren’t actually capable of multi-tasking, so having simple ways of doing things will often suit our nature best and lead to the best outcome.

Slide2The simplest way isn’t always the best way.  Finding the best way requires us to examine a number of alternatives, and the art of possibility lives in the realm of complexity. Opening ourselves to all possibilities may uncover a great solution, albeit a more complex one.  The trick then is to work at simplifying the solution as much as we can.

Slide1When we look around us, we will find that the most durable things and ideas are often the simplest.  Less moving parts, fewer steps and a more linear approach often seem to appeal to us most readily and we tend to stick with these approaches longer, and when we inevitably look at them for “a better way”, we end up sticking with them because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Slide2While simple ways may be the most enduring, the richness of experience lies in variety. Thus if something is overly simple, we may find that our minds begin to seek out something different that will stimulate our interests.  For some, working is a means to support life, and simple resonates with them as they seek richness in other aspects of their life.  For others, work is a big part of how they are fulfilled and thus a consistent routine may wear thin after a while.  As leaders, it is important for us to make sure that we know our team members and provide them with a portfolio of work that matches their way of being.

Slide1For most of us, the most powerful experiences we have are those simple ones based in relationship with others.  Think of the connections we make with others – our spouse, our parents, our children and our close friends.  These are easy ones to spot, and probably just as easy to identify the simple value and pleasure they provide to us day in and day out.  My guess is that we have a number of relationships at work that we would put into this same category – people with whom we value the opportunity to have a good conversation with.  How simple is that?

Slide2While relationships are at the centre of everything we do and in reality a simple one-to-one connection, managing the emotions of relationships is anything but simple. Every relationship is fundamentally the connection of two individuals who are primally driven by their own systems looking out for their own safety, both physical and emotional. Below the depths of our amazing intellectual capacity as humans, our older and more basic brain is processing our emotions.  This part of our brain works much faster than our intellectual brain, so it is a constant challenge for us to intercept and understand our emotions before they appear in an unwelcome way in our relationship.

So it seems that keeping it simple isn’t as simple as it sounds!  What are your experiences with keeping it simple?  Is is something you strive for?  What challenges have you faced?

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

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