Simple is Complicated

How do you define “simple” in two words or less? “No-brainer” comes first to my mind, my 11-year-old son says “not difficult,” my teenagers collectively say “basic” while my husband plays my little word game and mutters “not complicated.”

Simple is Complicated

Tanya Sudolnik October 4, 2016

How do you define “simple” in two words or less? “No-brainer” comes first to my mind, my 11-year-old son says “not difficult,” my teenagers collectively say “basic” while my husband plays my little word game and mutters “not complicated.”

As a product manager, I spend a significant amount of time trying to articulate features and benefits for my products that will resonate with customers and clearly and concisely map out how their problems will be solved. While I want the message to be clear, I also want it to have meaning. “No-brainer,” “not difficult,” “basic,” and “not complicated” are not the first thoughts I want my customers to have when I tell them a certain feature will simplify their business. And did anyone else notice all of the uses of “no” in those responses?

The entire definition of simple is waking me up at night; this is not a word game.

The path to simple at Wazee Digital has been enlightening. Late last year we made the commitment to invest time, resources and energy to improve our licensing business, Wazee Digital Commerce. We began with an extensive analysis of our industry, our competition; and we talked in depth to our customers (both internal and external as we use our Commerce product extensively to research and manage projects) and did some serious number crunching. While the results of our analysis could be fodder for another blog entry, what hit home was the need for simplicity in our business but how not simple our Commerce product was for our own use, and subsequently for the use of our customers.

What has evolved from this journey is a new product vision:

“Commerce will simplify the monetization of content with easy to use tools for research and clearance, unprecedented workflow services and the ability to license to advertising agencies, sports entities, and entertainment projects while continually evolving with our Core and Live Event Services technologies.”

Yup, complicated.

Despite that, our product and R&D teams have rallied around this “simple” path. We functionally decomposed our Commerce product to its base functions and are now well into the process of rebuilding, (with the beta program launching next Tuesday!) much like breaking an ‘ordinary person’ down – only to rebuild into a super hero, we are making technological, architectural, and procedural choices that will change our business and lay the foundation for the future.

But simple has not been easy. And funny thing, we aren’t alone.

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

~Steve Jobs

Meanwhile, technology is not the only discipline where simple is complicated; even legendary musician Sting admits that making simple music is difficult.

Listen in around 3:43, but make sure to bookmark it so you can go back and enjoy his performance.

I read an article recently about how new technology is intended to make our lives easier, but in some ways it can make our lives hectic and harried. What hit home for me in this article was a reference to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic book, The Little Prince (a personal favorite) where the little prince asks why the merchant would sell a pill that will quench thirst (simple solution to a problem). “Because it saves a lot of time,” the merchant replies. “Experts have it all worked out. You save 53 minutes a week.” “If I had 53 minutes to spend,” the little prince replies, “I would walk very slowly toward a spring of fresh water.”

The question we should ask, the author writes, is not “how do we save time,” but “what do we want to save time for?”

Now I can parlay this into an analogy: simple = a way to save time = how each customer uses this time makes the guts of this feature much more complicated but personal and meaningful at the same time.

How can a seasoned product manager possibly state benefits that are specific to each customer succinctly in one slide? For some, the time saved will foster and enable creativity; for others it could increase the number of projects managed, possibly increasing revenue. But ultimately it means I have a much simpler product vision:

Commerce will simplify your business, so that you can save time to “fill in the blank.”

Now excuse me while I go rewrite my product presentations…