What is simplicity? The dictionary meaning of “simple” is easy to understand or plain without anything extra or unnecessary. The word simplicity itself makes it sound as if it’s easy to attain. But the concept of simplicity should not be confused with little effort or with being “simple-minded,” which to some people means ignorant, gullible, naïve, or even foolish. No wonder some people fear being simple and do not see simplicity as a plus. They would rather create complexity in their lives, focus on the details of the problem instead of the main thing, and what’s more important, miss seeing the simple solution staring at them in the face.
When do we simplify? We see the signals when we are in a state of anxiety, chaos or confusion. We experience forgetfulness, overload or fatigue. There is lack of time, concentration and focus. We live an imbalanced life, not clear about what we want, where we are going, and how we are going to get there. A lot of us suffer from the paranoia of omission – not wanting to miss out on anything and striving for perfection. We’re afraid something will go wrong if we miss out on something but end up feeling overwhelmed, getting lost, and forgetting our priorities.
Why do we need to simplify? A simplified life consists mostly of what matters most, instead of having more and more to the extent that there is a constant overload of information and ‘stuff’ everywhere, leading to a cluttered and chaotic workplace, home and even mind as well. When we simplify, we get the most important things done on time. We have time to do what we want to do, not just what we have to do. We can relax for a while and enjoy life without feeling guilty that we should be doing something else. We experience clarity of thought and happy stress-free living.
As Edward de Bono, author, inventor, and consultant, said, “Dealing with complexity is an inefficient and unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple.” How true! A lot of people still do not understand and appreciate, let alone use, the power of simplicity. Perhaps they think that complex things are more impressive as they are more difficult. Perhaps they got lost in the details and do not know how to think simple. Perhaps they want to avoid seeing the reality and live in denial or out of fear. Whatever the reason, simplicity clears the unnecessary and helps people see things from a clearer perspective, and to focus on more important things.
So how do we simplify and gain from the power of simplicity in coaching? One of the very important roles of a coach is to help people to see through the fog that they are so deeply engrossed in that they fail to see things objectively and miss out on solutions and recourses that are at their disposal. They could tell the coach about many things and give long explanations, but in the end, forget to give an answer to the coach’s question. They could start telling their stories, but as they talk, they forget where they are coming from, add irrelevant details to the story, or keep repeating themselves.
In his article, “How Can You Move the Client from Complexity to Simplicity in Coaching,” Hakan Arabacioglu, a life coach based in Istanbul, Turkey, gave this analogy. Imagine that the client is lost and trying to find his orientation in life. He is trying to find the answers to the questions “Where am I now? Where do I want to go from here?” He is looking at the Google maps and his zoom level is 18 where he sees himself stuck between the buildings and the streets. He does not even know which city he is in.
The coach’s first duty here is to lead the client to “zoom out” and help him discover where he is. When the client zooms out, if he is familiar with the environment, then he can locate himself. He can identify which city he is in. If he is not familiar, then keep zooming out till he sees the planet as a dot. He is now focused on the big picture. At this time, the client’s hour-long story is cut to a single sentence. Also, since he knows where he is now, he is at a point to choose where to go from here.
In accounting, the bottom line is the final figure. You can have spectacular income figures but if costs are not well-managed, there would not be a good bottom-line after all the hard work. So bottom line has very much to do with what really matters. In coaching, it’s about getting to the core of the issue or the problem, the gist of a discussion that is most important, the critical actions to be done, and the end result of achievement that the client is looking for. These points have to be clear, simple and powerful.
As coaches, let’s ask clear and simple questions and offer clear and simple feedback and suggestions, when needed. Let’s avoid complex language as this will cloud our client’s mind. Let’s ask them what’s the gist of this, the essence, the core. Let’s listen for critical inputs and help the client simplify and identify the critical issues, main problems, and key solutions. Let’s discover what matters most to them and what would make the greatest difference for them. Let’s provide an opportunity for them to leverage on their strengths and prioritize their most important goals related to different aspects of their life.
Take the case of Mei Ying, an HR Manager of a leading shoe manufacturing firm in Shanghai. When asked about the toughest challenge she is encountering at work, she started to give a laundry list of all the things that require her attention. She joined the organization six months ago, but there is still so much information she has to learn and so many options she has to consider. She shared about the perceived lack of support she has from management and the perceived lack of cooperation she experienced from the other line managers. One of her team members is going on maternity leave and another just submitted his resignation letter. She doesn’t know what to do and where to start. She is caught up in the “complexity” of things and cannot see the possible solutions and resources that are within her reach.
Mei Ying’s coach asked her to first relax and breathe deeply. The coach sees the signals that she is in a state of anxiety, chaos and confusion. She feels overwhelmed, stressed, even hopeless. The coach needs to “zoom” her out of the story where she is stuck so she can be free from all the prejudice coming from the event or the people in her story. He did this by asking Mei Ying to zero in and focus on the essential – what is the core of the issue or the problem. By working with her coach, she identified that she hasn’t asked for nor received any feedback from her boss, peers, and staff since she joined the organization and this is causing the stressful anxiety, undue pressure, and lack of confidence in getting the job done. A simple solution of getting feedback from important people in her work place allowed Mei Ying to learn many valuable things, and led her to taking action on what was most important to produce better results. Simple and effective solutions generated from coaching, eventually enabled Mei Ying to excel in her new job.
A coaching session during which simplicity is encouraged becomes time efficient. It consumes less mental energy and brings clarity for both parties. When we choose to talk simply, without anything extra or unnecessary, we cleanse our mind. Without the chaos and clutter of complexity, we can more easily find what we are looking for – the solution that is readily visible. This helps the coach to create more breakthroughs and “Aha!” moments for the client when they are able to use the power of simplicity.
– Warren Buffet