Leaders Know How to Make Simplicity Clearer

Many leaders spend their lives driving decisions, directing resources, and deploying people without the vantage point of substantial clarity.

If clarity is so beneficial, why do we find it in short supply with most leaders? Every leader must contend with clarity gaps and complexity factors. To make matters worse, the two biggest contributors to clarity and complexity in any organization are failure and success. But all is not lost; you can lead with consistent clarity.

Being clear as a leader means being simple, understandable, and exact. The leader helps others see and understand reality better.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Why Simple Wins, by Lisa Bodell

Imagine what you could do with the time you spend writing emails every day. Complexity is killing companies’ ability to innovate and adapt, and simplicity is fast becoming the competitive advantage of our time. Why Simple Wins helps leaders and their teams move beyond the feelings of frustration and futility that come with so much unproductive work in today’s corporate world to create a corporate culture where valuable, essential, meaningful work is the norm. By learning how to eliminate redundancies, communicate with clarity, and make simplification a habit, individuals and companies can begin to recognize which activities are time-sucks and which create lasting value. Lisa Bodell’s simplification method has several unique principles: Simplification is a skill that’s available to us all, yet very few leaders use it. Simplification is the right thing to do–for our customers, for our company, and for each other. Operating with simplification as our core business model will make it easier to be respectful of each other’s time. Simplification drives culture, and culture in turn drives employee engagement, customer relations, and overall productivity.

This book is inspired by Bodell’s passion for eliminating barriers to innovation and productivity. In it, she explains why change and innovation are so hard to achieve–and it’s not what you might expect. The reality is this: we spend our days drowning in mundane tasks like meetings, emails, and reports. These are often self-created complexities that prevent us from getting to the meaningful work that truly matters. Using simple stories and techniques, Why Simple Wins shows that by using simplicity as an operating principle, we can eliminate the busy work that puts a chokehold on us every day, and instead spend time on the work that we value.


Finding clarity requires navigating a tunnel of chaos, the point where deeper confusion and complexity are experienced first, before clarity can emerge. The tunnel of chaos make take hours, days, or months and it may involve much time in prayer, conversation, questioning, reflection, confession, and challenge, all with a spirit of relentless transparency.

The resolve to navigate this tunnel of chaos cannot be overestimated. The danger lies in the fact that there are two kings of simplicity. The first is meaningless simplicity, where the leader marches in place to a simplicity that is trite and valueless. Meaningless simplicity causes many leaders to give in and copy what someone else is doing.

On the other hand, getting to the other side of complexity finds you in a place of life redefined and rereleased. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Many leaders can get stuck in between, bogged down in complexity. These leaders don’t feel stuck, because they are living with a lot of good ministry – but it is good ministry that is the enemy of the best that the church ultimately can become. 

It’s time to make simplicity clearer; and complexity too.

Something that’s properly simplified is:

As minimal as possible: Simple things reduce the number of steps, pages, features, functions, sign-offs, requirements, and other hurdles required to get something accomplished. There’s nothing extra, but at the same time, there’s enough to get the job done.

As understandable as possible: Simple things are defined by clear, straightforward language. They are comprehensible to someone who doesn’t already have expertise in the subject at hand. Simple things could easily be replicated by a novice – even if they often require some common sense.

As repeatable as possible: Simple things can be scaled or replicated. They aren’t one-offs. They aren’t customized. It should be easy for someone to do them over and over again.

As accessible as possible: Simple things are made available and transparent to as many audiences as possible. Outsiders can make use of them with as few gatekeepers as possible.

Complexity, then, is the lack of these four elements. It’s a process, product, communication, or procedure that isn’t minimal, understandable, repeatable, and accessible as possible.

Lisa Bodell, Why Simple Wins


Albert Einstein believed that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” And therein lies the problem that many organizations face when they remove too much information in the effort to make things simpler: the remaining information becomes useless.

The trick is striking an appropriate balance between details (complexity) on one hand, and the need to simplify on the other.

To help develop that balance, follow the outline below developed by Why Simple Wins author Lisa Bodell to help make simplification happen.

  1. Awareness – the journey to simplification begins with recognizing the toll taken by complexity. To help develop this awareness, choose a ministry event or activity that you feel has become complicated. On a chart tablet, list the name of the activity with your team, and then write down items that you team can identify that cause this complication.
  2. Identification – once aware of the complexity, write down items that your team can identify that cause this complication.
  3. Prioritization – use a “time versus value” equation to evaluate the opportunities you identified in the previous step. List which complications impede your progress the most, which problems will be hardest to eliminate, and those in which you can get the most traction toward simplifying.
  4. Execution – once the opportunities are identified, execute them by moving forward in real time.
  5. Habit Formation – simplification is never finished – it has to become a part of the way you operate

Gather your team and take 10 minutes to decide on one ministry or area that needs simplification. Next, using the above filters, spend 80 minutes discussing and then commit to three simplification steps in the next 14 days. Repeat throughout each ministry or program, as needed.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 74-1, issued September 2017.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt there.


> Purchase SUMS Remix here<<




Understand Simplicity as a Foundation of Rest and Peaceful Living

We live in a society that demands instant gratification. We are always connected with devices that bring the world to our fingertips. We know more, more quickly, than at any time in human history.

And yet we seem to be satisfied less, just as quickly. Leaders are in a quest for more, but the obtaining more seems to result in just wanting more. It is a vicious cycle not easily broken.

Church pastors and staff are not immune to this; in fact, in some ways they may even be more susceptible. Congregational leaders and promising opportunities pull pastors in multiple directions at once, resulting in almost constant feelings of being overwhelmed by ministry, and by life.

The true, deepest need for leaders today is not to be more intelligent, or more gifted, or even more successful, but to be more connected, more fully to God.

The classical disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration) of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths of communion with a Holy and Living God.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Living the Quaker Way, by Philip Gulley.

Philip Gulley invites us into a bracing encounter with the rich truths of Quakerism—a centuries-old spiritual tradition that provides not only a foundation of faith but also vision for making the world more just, loving, and peaceable by our presence.

In Living the Quaker Way, Gulley shows how Quaker values provide real solutions to many of our most pressing contemporary challenges. We not only come to a deeper appreciation of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, we see how embracing these virtues will radically transform us and our world.


We live in a world that often measures success by the accumulation of things. As the character Tyler Durden (played by Edward Norton) says in the movie Fight Club, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

Even leaders in the Church are trapped in a maze of competition making spur of the moment decisions of programs or purchasing only to “fit in” or keep up with our friends. Did you REALLY need that new iPhone or were you trying to stay ahead of the youth minister?

The Christian discipline of simplicity is an inward decision toward focusing on the higher things of God that results in an outward lifestyle of impressing an audience of One.

While our journey toward a simpler life might well take different roads, it begins with the same step— the discernment between wants and needs.

Just as we cannot compel someone else to live simply, we cannot define simplicity for another, for our needs vary, as does our capacity for change. The life of simplicity is one of growing awareness, and each of us grows at different rates, in diverse ways. Not many decades had passed before early Quakers began judging one another’s commitment to simplicity, gauging another’s devotion to God by his or her clothing, home, and speech. They then enacted strict rules governing simplicity. It ended disastrously, creating a climate of judgment and self-righteousness that caused grave injury to our spiritual well-being.

Simplicity is not a universal fit. What is extravagance to one is necessity for another. My interpretation of wants and needs will not be yours, nor will yours be mine. The life of simplicity does not mean owning a bare minimum of goods. It is a commitment to live a liberated life, freed from constant distraction, devoted to our spiritual and emotional growth and the betterment of others. This can, and will, take many forms, depending upon our priorities, insights, needs, and life stages.

There are, the saying goes, two ways to be rich: one is to make more, the other is to want less. Most of us, when given that choice, have opted to make more. The idea of doing without, of denying ourselves the things we want, seems almost unfair. Advertisers tell us we “deserve” to drive a new car or “need” a larger television. It is easy to convince ourselves we merit these things, especially since we have worked so hard. But it is a vicious cycle, for we have worked much in order to buy the things we believe we need, often without stopping to consider whether they are essential.

Philip Gulley, Living the Quaker Way


The pursuit of simplicity involves every facet of your life – spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, and vocational. The successful journey of a successful life will lead us from one area to the next.

Beginning with a focus on outward simplicity could be the best place to start. Richard Foster, author of one of the most compelling and readable expressions of Christian spirituality, suggests these 10 controlling principles for the outward expression of simplicity

  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
  2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
  3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
  4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
  5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
  6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
  7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
  8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
  9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
  10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

Simplicity should be leading us on a journey in which each month, each experience, and each encounter is a learning opportunity for us. A deeper level of understanding about simplicity should reorient our lives so that possessions can be “genuinely enjoyed without destroying us” (Foster).

Gather your staff and personally force-rank the 10 principles above. Once each of you have ordered them from most challenging to least challenging, compare your lists. Now pray together and become accountable when you share similar challenges and pray for others who might be weak in area in which you are strong. Allow others to pray for you in your weakness.

Leo Tolstoy said, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours. The change demands an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. Following the spiritual disciplines prepares your inner being for the change that only God can bring.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 34-2, published February 2016.

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

One Button: The Official Symbol of Simplicity

…a single iconic image can be the most powerful form of communication.

– Ken Segall, Insanely Simple

Ken Segall was the creative director at several ad agencies, working for big-name tech companies like IBM, Intel, and Dell. However, it was his work with Apple over a period of years that gives him a unique perspective of the stark contrast of Apple’s ways that made Segall appreciate the power of Simplicity.

The obsession with Simplicity is what separates Apple from other technology companies. Led by Steve Jobs’ uncompromising ways, you can see Simplicity in everything Apple does: the way it’s structured, the way it innovates, and the way it speaks to its customers.

Like this:

Or even this:

Apple branded itself using iconic images and two words that perfectly described the spirit of the company. Every Apple produce sold contributed to the brand image; every product became a manifestation of the brand.

There’s one more example:

One is the simplest number ever invented. It’s so simple, a child can understand it. The further you get away from one, the more complicated things get.

That’s why Steve Jobs insisted on iPhone having only one button, rejecting many models before arriving at the final version. You don’t even have to use an iPhone to get that it’s simple. In fact, one could say that the single button has become an icon of Apple’s devotion to Simplicity.

Simplicity requires little effort.

If Apple had it’s way, all of its products would feature a single button. Now that the iPhone has Siri, the voice-controlled assistant, you might want to prepare yourself for Apple products with zero buttons.

After all, zero is the only number that’s simpler than one.

I’ve really enjoyed reading Insanely Simple and its true insider’s perspective on Apple’s obsession with Simplicity. Ken Segall has really brought the concepts of Simplicity home.

As a leader, are you practicing Simplicity?

Simplicity Never Stands Still

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.

– Leonard Bernstein

Former ad agency creative director Ken Segall’s new book Insanely Simple is written from a unique perspective: developing marketing campaigns for technology giants like IBM, Dell, Intel, – and Apple. It was the stark contrast of Apple’s ways that made Segall appreciate the power of Simplicity – and inspired him to help others benefit from it.

In the chapter entitled “Think Motion,” Segall refers to Apple’s practices of fast-tracking project and marketing development.  Apple has grown to point where it does a tremendous number of things at once, and in doing so has built one of the world’s greatest juggling acts. Apple:

  • lives in constant motion
  • never stops thrilling its audience
  • never lets things get old

The best illustration of this comes from an example of Segall’s work with both Dell and Apple on similar ventures – developing a new branding campaign.

Apple set out to create a brand campaign in 1997.

   Dell set out to create a brand campaign in 2008.

Apple wanted to start its campaign immediately.

   Dell pondered a schedule that would take months.

Apple’s brand team was led by its CEO.

   Dell’s brand team was led by a committee.

Apple trusted a small group of smart people.

   Dell trusted a small group of incompatible people.

Apple knew exactly who it was.

   Dell need to figure out who it was.

Steve Jobs was an active participant.

   Michael Dell would look in when the project was complete.

Apple’s brand team required only the CEO’s approval.

   Dell’s brand team required each division’s approval.

Apple took a month to conceive and create a campaign.

   Dell required a month just to talk about strategies.

Apple ended up with the Think Different campaign.

   Dell ended up with a stack of presentation boards stored neatly in a dark closet.

Simplicity – represented in the above example by Apple’s actions – is a fundamental requirement when you’re trying to achieve lofty goals. As Dell discovered, a fractured, leaderless group without an urgent mandate is Simplicity-proof.

Will you walk the straight path of Simplicity or choose the dark, winding road of Complexity?

Small is the Ultimate Efficiency

When process is king, ideas will never be. It takes only Common Sense to recognize that the more layers you add to a process, the more watered down the final work will become.

– Ken Segall, Insanely Simple

Ken Segall was the creative director at several ad agencies, working for big-name tech companies like IBM, Intel, and Dell. However, it was his work with Apple over a period of years that gives him a unique perspective of the stark contrast of Apple’s ways that made him appreciate the power of Simplicity. Segall recently released a book about these lessons – Insanely Simple. More than just another repetition of Apple lore, it chronicles an outsider’s long relationship with Apple and Steve Jobs that will provide leaders in any organization with the powerful tools of Simplicity.

Simplicity’s Best Friend: Small Groups of Smart People

While working with Apple, Segall often experienced the strict enforcement of one of Simplicity’s most important rules: Start with small groups of smart people – and keep them small. Every time the body count in a meeting or working on a project goes higher, you’re simply inviting Complexity to take a seat at the table.

This small-group principle is a key to Apple’s ongoing success and key to any organization that wants to nurture quality thinking. The idea is pretty basic: Everyone in the room should be there for a reason. Segall distilled years of observing and practicing this idea down into two “Laws of Small.”

The quality of work resulting from a project is inversely proportional to the number of people involved in the project.

The quality of work resulting from a project increases in direct proportion to the degree of involvement by the ultimate decision maker.

To even speak of putting process before creativity did not happen in an environment like Apple’s. A better idea is a better idea – no matter where it fell in the process. The high value placed on ideas is one of the things that Steve Jobs burned into the Apple culture and it will likely continue to guide the company into the future.

How would small groups of smart people work in your organization?

Blunt is Simplicity. Meandering is Complexity.

Clarity propels an organization. Not occasional clarity but pervasive, twenty-four-hour, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners clarity.

– Ken Segall, Insanely Simple

Ken Segall is a former ad agency creative director who worked for Apple during Steve Jobs’ return to the helm of the iconic tech company. He also worked for many of the largest tech companies around: IBM, Dell, and Intel among others. He’s seen both sides of the fence, so to speak, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success is an amazing book detailing Apple’s return to brilliance under Steve Jobs. It’s loaded with personal stories and practical applications that your organization will find both fascinating and useful.

Like the necessity of being brutally honest in your communications.

According to Segall, Steve Jobs told you what was on his mind and he couldn’t care less how you might feel about it. Despite a general perception that Jobs was the nasty tyrant who demanded allegiance, barked commands, and instilled fear in those around him, this was an incomplete portrait. He could also be funny, warm, and even charming.

There is a huge difference between being brutally honest and simply being brutal.

Simplicity at Apple is the name of the game, and it requires that you be honest and never hold back. If you demand the same from those you work with, everyone will know where they stand.

One hundred percent of your group’s time will be focused on forward progress – and there will be no need to decode what people are really saying.

Learn the Powerful Lessons of Simplicity

Simplicity isn’t just a design principle at Apple – it’s a value that permeates every level of the organization.

-Ken Segall, Insanely Simple

Ken Segall was the creative director at several ad agencies, working for big-name tech companies like IBM, Intel, and Dell. However, it was his work with Apple over a period of years that gives him a unique perspective of the stark contrast of Apple’s ways that made Segall appreciate the power of Simplicity.

The obsession with Simplicity is what separates Apple from other technology companies. Led by Steve Jobs’ uncompromising ways, you can see Simplicity in everything Apple does: the way it’s structured, the way it innovates, and the way it speaks to its customers.

Insanely Simple gives you a true insider’s perspective on Apple’s obsession with Simplicity. Here are just a few of the topics covered:

  • Think Small – swearing allegiance to the concept of “small groups of smart people” raises both morale and productivity
  • Think Minimal – distilling choices to a minimum brings clarity to a company and its customers – as Jobs proved when he replaced over twenty product models with a lineup of four
  • Think Motion – keeping project teams in constant motion focuses creative thinking on well-defined goals and minimizes distractions
  • Think Iconic – using a simple, profound image to symbolize the benefits of a product or idea creates a deeper impression in the minds of customers

Segall introduces the book with the concept of The Simple Stick – a core value within Apple. Sometimes it’s held up as inspiration; other times it’s wielded like a club. In all cases, it’s a reminder of what sets Apple apart from other technology companies and what makes Apple stand out in a complicated world: a deep, almost religious belief in the power of Simplicity.

If you are a leader in ChurchWorld, you know about and fight the battle of Simplicity every day. It may seem like a losing battle, but you need to know that the results are worth the effort.

The simpler way isn’t always the easiest. Often it requires more time, more money, and more energy. It may require you to step on a few toes along the way. But more often than not, Simplicity leads to better results.

Simplicity needs a champion – someone who’s willing to stand up for its principles and strong enough to resist the overtures of Simplicity’s evil twin, Complexity.

Simplicity needs a leader who is willing to guide the process with both head and heart…

…someone like you?

To read more about Insanely Simple, go to the top of the page and click on the orange title of tomorrow’s post.