Customer Reviews: Simplicity: Working Smarter In A World Of Infinite Choices
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on February 13, 2000
I look at some of these reviews and it sounds like Simplicity set out to cure world hunger and reinvent all work. Maybe for some people, it does that. Not me. I'm just trying to do my best each day, make a difference, and spend more time with my kids. And I love this book.
Here's my take: Buy enough copies of Simplicity for everyone in your company. Not because it'll cure all of today's complicated craziness. But because it's real. It's basic. It's common sense made unbelievably useful. The tools and ideas the author offers involve day-to-day challenges: How to communicate differently...(the behavioral communication model has already helped me immensely)...How to use time effectively. How to help others navigate all the noise.
Buy this book because, as Jensen says, it's about the most basic thing that ties all of us together. Each of us gets only 1440 minutes each day. Simplicity is about changing how you and I use those minutes.
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on April 28, 2000
Building upon a previous review: This book is Cluetrain 2.0, Wheatley/Leadership 2.0, Petzinger/Pioneers 2.0, Tapscott/Digital 2.0, Godin/Permission 2.0! Yet Jensen isn't trying to create the "next big or new idea."
What makes Simplicity Business 2.0 is that it's practical. He takes many of the big ideas around us, and answers "where do we go from here?"
He details what we need to think about if we are to leverage the Net in a world that's already on choice and info overload. He covers how to communicate effectively, organize one's thinking for faster implementation, storytelling as a business tool, even how to listen and delete most of what is shoveled at us. Jensen also focuses on the needs of Net Geners -- what tomorrow's pioneers will demand of our organizations. The entire book is about what it will take get permission, time and attention from the people who do the day-to-day work.
Simplicity is about how our companies need to change so all our big ideas *actually work*. Buy one copy of your favorite new-big idea book. Get LOTS of copies of this book and give them to everyone you know!
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on September 6, 2000
Here are the top three reasons that you should buy this book:
1. You've heard a lot about making work simpler, but you don't have any idea how to put "simpler" practices into place. Jensen drops several bombs in this book, most of them in the form of great tools for anyone in a management position. The theory is outlined quickly and without pretense and then the tools hammer home the essentials. This book is very good at getting you to reevaluate you thinking processes immediately. Everyone from CEOs down to front-line managers will benefit from these tools.
2. Your formerly small, fast-moving new media startup is experiencing growing pains. That's the case in my company, where we've gone from 60 employees to well over 400 in the US. My outlook on the state of my company has expanded dramatically since reading this book, because it effectively diagnosed the key problem: the business strategy and company values have become divorced from the day to day activities of employees. Simplicity is a handbook for living by your values and getting through growth phases in an organization, on project teams, and everywhere else. Again, managers need this information, but so do employees, who will feel empathy with the data from Jensen's study and find ways to make their job easier in the short term, and tools to manage upwards and change the way things work in the organization in the long view.
3. You're tired of management/business books that simply spout platitudes. Jensen engages the reader with lots of different layouts and chapter summaries that inform without dumbing down. He's clearly got a line on multiple intelligence theory, because the book shakes up conventional data presentation techniques in favor of eye-catching (and therefore memory engaging) presentations. This book walks the talk by developing ways to make complex messages easily understandable.
The swift kick to the head, in my case, has helped me truly become more effective and to demand change from the leaders in my organization. I first checked this book out of a library but I now own a copy, and it's been read twice, dogeared and scribbled in. The fact that you can also go to the companion website to download the results of the study that formed the basis of the book is great for analytical types. Buy it, read it, give it to your CEO.
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on May 7, 2005
What a tremendous overview of an important topic for all businesses. The book starts with some key points: Simplicity - the art of making the complex clear - can give us the power to get things done. This can be accomplished in a couple of different ways; Use time differently, and work backwards from what people (those employees closest to the customer) want. (Page 2). Throughout the book are direct challenges to senior executives to work hard at clarifying and respecting how the organization spends it's time.

One quote early in the book raises some key insights into how the organization really operates; "People tolerate management's logic, but they act on their own conclusions" (Page 14). Thus the necessity of simplifying the infinite choices facing your people everyday. "People, not programs, plans or technologies, make the final choices about what to do and how to do it". (Page 25)

One of the essential barriers to simplicity is ineffective communication. The book depicts such a stark reality, that I put the book down and pondered how often I do the very thing that creates complexity. The authors describe a well known problem: "Time pressure allows people to justify behaviors they would not accept from others. When people are in need of communication they want others to take the time to listen and create clarity meaning and connection. However when they are doing the communicating it becomes a matter of disseminating information and taking any available e-shortcuts". (Page 24). Ouch.

Another key to simplicity is getting people engaged, which gains their attention. One methodology depicted and outlined is how storytelling can engage your people. The keys in creating the similar process to a story can help a business translate images and insights into action by developing a burning platform, describing where we are, what success now will look like and where we are going (Page 91). Another really powerful set of tools.

"People have limitless capacity to work smarter, as long as what you build is user centered" (Page 109). This simple truth aligns the sections on how to work backwards by focusing on meeting the needs of workers and enabling them to control their work and improve results. However, most senior leaders I work with have a tremendous difficulty in letting go, and in doing so create more complexity and lower the overall organizational effectiveness.

The book is one of those which will remain on my shelf to refer to whenever I am leading change and trying to improve results through communication and improving processes. Far too many companies and senior leaders fail to understand the basics of human nature, and how powerful the focus on simplicity can be. Even the most basic opportunity, freeing up wasted time, can be like getting twice as many employees for free.

My only complaint of the book is rather ironic. At times the graphics and layout of the book itself was actually too busy and complex. It would seem that a book on simplicity would itself model this simplicity. However, in the overall view of how important these tools and ideas are, this is more of a minor annoyance than a fatal flaw. This is a great book, and anyone who leads a team or an organization will benefit from applying the concept of simplifying the organizational environment to improve speed and execution.
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on October 14, 2004
The best companies out there spend a lot of time talking to their customers. Focus groups, customer surveys and CRM/ One-to-One technologies are growing increasingly common.

Jensen takes this one-step further. Why not build a company that is easy for the front-line employees, who actually interface with your customers, to navigate? A common-sense, win-win scenario. The customers of a simplified business would happier because employees have relevant information at their finger-tips. Employees are happier because they save thousands of frustrating hours spent looking for the exact information they need. Indeed, Jensen advocates turning traditional strategy on its head. He foresees easy-to-navigate companies built from the ground up, merely overseen by executive "steering committees."

Easy-navigation is what Jensen calls "Simplicity." In fact, taming complexity by taking time to sift the important from the trivial grows more vital, and difficult to do, as our businesses grow larger. Because of this, most companies fall quite short when it comes to providing their employees with the tools needed to simply do their jobs. And Jensen does not stop at the theoretical, big-picture level, but presents some excellent tools to help think through these problems: "CLEAR," and "Simpler to Know, Feel, Use, Do and Succeed" are a couple of the most noteworthy.

Though I love Jensen's ideas, I have one major criticism: the book is, quite ironically, one of the most difficult to navigate books I have ever encountered. Side bars cut into text, without any warning, change in text font or background color. Two or three times each chapter, you are left hanging mid-sentence in the main text, while you read a related side-bar... only to forget what the main sentence was talking about. In fact, this caused me to shave the rating from five stars for the content to four for the entire package... and almost had me to three. I found the navigation that frustrating.

Still, I would recommend this book to almost everyone I know in business. The ideas are that good.
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on March 10, 2000
Many of us like our `knowledge work', but we face an endless source of competing priorities and demands. So I was delighted to read Bill Jensen's book, Simplicity. His work puts into words what we've been feeling and thinking as employees and managers. He brings clarity and organization to what makes work so complex. Even better, he provides practical ways for figuring out what to do in our world of infinite choices. He shows what we and our organizations can do to progress right now and to build-in longer term solutions. I started using his ideas before I'd finished reading his book (e.g., "storytelling as a business tool" in explaining strategy and plans). The organization and design of the book-summaries, lists, tables, graphics-speeds understanding and facilitates rereading for key messages.
I particularly like Jensen's ideas on working smarter by designing smarter work-taking a user-centered approach (e.g., consulting employees) to ensure that work tools, processes and information are grounded in what we need; and by using time differently-making the complex clear, e.g., via clear goals, objectives and priorities, with ongoing dialogue, and smarter tools, so we can "...spend a lot less time on the things that don't matter and more time on the things that do." I work in a group whose role is to help organizations better understand, manage and communicate about risk. Jensen's ideas can help us significantly in our and our clients' work to create and sustain a risk-smart workforce and environment.
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on August 20, 2000
While Bill has some very good ideas, this book is almost unreadable. Pages suddenly move from 12 pitch to 16 pitch to 20 pitch type, numbering is reversed to suit a point at will, double and triple line spaces come and go, bold type is spread here and there - it will give you glasses if you read it in one session.
Secondly, while part of the title, no where does the concept of Competitibve Advantage get defined - Read Jay Barney "Gaining and Sustaining Competitive Advantage" Addison-Wesley 1997 to get a good start on what exactly you are looking for.
Bill's core points are spread out over the 210 pages - if you cut out the quotes the book would be 25% shorter and much better for it.
What he says is great - know exactly what you want to do, why you want to and what success will look like, and tell others in terms they can understand, and make sure they understand.
I would suggest that you read someone elses copy before you think about purchasing this book. It's good but not great.
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on April 26, 2000
After delving into John McKean's outstanding "Information Masters", this book seems far less profound. The great difference between the two books is that while McKean produced thought provoking illustrations of the current information analysis and usage void in corporate America, this author produced rather high-level (if more conversational) analogies that, in my view, fail to ask (and answer) the difficult questions surrounding true competitive advantage.
For example, in ranking working complexities, "customer needs" failed to make the Top Four. While this outcome was based on exhaustive research, the author appears to overlook the probability that the reason this crucial business driver was ranked so low is simply because,as McKean points out, companies in general have no idea how to analyze customer information. It is not considered a complex issue simply because hardly anyone is truly able to put their arms around it from a strategic standpoint!
On the plus side, the book is very easy to read and filled with anecdotal evidence from many different areas of corporate America. However, the book is so focused on internal organizational concerns that it conjures visions of those ERP vendors left gasping by the trendy shift to CRM and E-business.
Much of the book's initial focus seems to lead up to five basic questions that every manager must clarify for his/her employees:
1. How is this relevant to what I do? 2. What, specifically, should I do? 3. How will I be measured, and what are the consequences? 4. What tools and support are available? 5. What's in it for me?
The author also writes at length about the value of prototyping, and designing "backwards" (i.e., from the user's perspective). Again, this approach is certainly nothing new - frustrated human factors engineers know all about it!
Overall, the concepts expressed in the book make a lot of sense, but are not revolutionary. The author clearly felt that the "Cluetrain Manifesto" was worthy of fearful analysis by corporate executives, but his warnings of dire consequences seemed to fall short of a real plea for proactive preparation. In summary:
1. IT (aka "technowonks") and Senior Management (since when did these entities develop a relationship?) had better involve front line users 2. Measures of three key "netgener" needs (ease of navigation, fulfillment, and timeliness) will be just as important as customer and performance measurement (are these well-worn ergonomic needs limited to Netgeners?) 3. Users will wield far more power in designing tools and support mechanisms.
Overall, the author must be lauded for years of intense research, but the overall theme of organizational behavior and control seems to belong to the industrial age. Despite 'hip' acknowledgement of coming changes in structure, I personally feel that not enough depth or understanding of true user needs is expressed. Sorry.
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on March 1, 2000
This is must reading for anyone who seeks to be understood. Do you have clients, employees, colleagues, children? Then this means you. But if you lead an enterprise or specialize in corporate communications, HR, or IT, then run, don't walk, to get your copy. This book is that powerful. You won't be disappointed. Readers, note: Reading this book is greatly assisted by its design, art directed by Jensen. The design employs one-page summaries and charts, "Simple Notes" and "Get Started" items, and large type and lots of white space for emphasizing key points.
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on January 10, 2000
I got Simplicity for one reason. I'm a lathe operator and everything is just getting too complex. What Bill Jensen calls "a world of infinite choices"...that's my life. When he says "enough is enough"...that's me. The tools and ideas in the front half of the book helped me "hit delete" on a lot of the noise my company creates. My days are simpler because I took some of the control away from my company and put it in my own hands.
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