Think of the big businesses that have grown out of the digital revolution, Google, Uber, Deliveroo, Air B&B or Netflix, the list is endless but they are share one core idea; simplicity.
Making lives simpler by fulfilling one modest user need; be it buy a book, get some food, watch a movie or get a ride wherever I am.
Well they did simplicity until they needed to satisfy the hungry monster that is growth and shareholder expectation for endless market share or turnover increases. Not that means profit or real money, just another round of fund raising and huge loses. How does that work? But simplicity…
The best products and services are those that do something simple well! A Dyson vacuum sucks up dirt, a spade is great for digging a hole and no one ever accused the phone hanging from your mother’s kitchen wall of only being useful when you want to talk to someone somewhere else. Simple products, a single purpose and refined to the essence of that purpose.
So you’re a tech company, with a great simple product that your user love but you get an itch; a little brain fart over lunch that becomes a gnawing thought that you can make everything better, the product will be even better. So that itch gets scratched, what happens now? ‘Enhanced Functionality’ a new set of features you believe will change the product for ever and scoop up the tiny group of users who’ve not converted to your service.
What does ‘Enhanced Functionality’ mean for the user? A raft of new widgets, menus and add-ons you never asked for, most times that make the product slower and way more confusing.
For some users ‘Enhanced Functionality’ turns out to be brilliant, a little tweak that changes the product or service for the better making your life so much better. But beware this group taking up the new functionality if you are only a handful of users! If not enough of you who have seen the light the company who scratched it itch will inevitably kill off that new bit of functionality leaving you devastated and stranded.
The SAS have a few great mnemonics that apply to every business. The six P’s of ‘Perfect Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance’ should be taught to every intern that walks through the door. But the single best lesson the world most elite fighting force can teach our business is…
KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid!
Simplicity, something that is simple but not simplistic or dumb. Just SIMPLE! This does not mean that beneath the surface there is not complexity of utter brilliance that may require years to even scratch the surface of: yes the swan’s legs really are moving that fast under the water.
It takes a brave company to stick to their core principles and keep things simple, even if their product is in fact something very complex and adopted by many.
Discussing all things ‘new business world’ in his excellent and inspiring book ‘REWORK’,
Jason Fried talks about developing and taking the project managements software Basecamp to market. He also gives great insight into what happens when you get a hit product;
‘Lots of people hate us because our products do less than the competition’s. They’re insulted when we refuse to include their pet feature. But we’re just as proud of what our products don’t do as we are of what they do.’
‘We design them to be simple because we believe most software is too complex: too many features, too many buttons, too much confusion. So we build software that’s the opposite of that. If what we make isn’t right for everyone, that’s OK. We’re willing to lose some customers if it means that others love our products intensely. That’s our line in the sand.’
Does it make things harder in a world of enhanced functionality when your business model is simple or your offering is not ridiculously overwhelming to comprehend? It can.
Our company does one simple thing and people really get it. Others though sometimes seem a little insulted by the fact that keep things very simple.
How much functionality do you need? Probably less than we all think.
How much service and human assistance do we need? Probably more than we would like to admit.
Is adding functionality just adding complexity for everyone? You, your customer and your long-term business viability. Think long and hard before you decide to scratch that enhanced functionality itch.