The Simplicity on the Far Side of Complexity

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is quoted as having said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

This is a great quote that hints at a model and a goal that all inventors, product managers, developers, entrepreneurs, leaders, and process innovators should aim to follow in creating products and processes that are not only useful, but also simple. When a particular idea, product, or process starts out it usually starts with just a simple idea. Sometimes that idea might have some utility. For better or for worse, we humans often need to complicate things. We share the idea with someone and they give us feedback. Usually the feedback is in the form of, “that’s great, but it would be better if…” And there starts the cycle of complicating the idea. We add additional complexity for the sake of increasing the usefulness of the idea. Initially, this added information really does feel like the solution so it becomes justified. However, at some point in time you may reach a point where the added information may not be useful and it’s just making it harder to utilize in the process. Keep this model in mind and challenge yourself or your team to improve the utility without overcomplicating it.

The purpose of this model is to present you with the concept of increasing the overall use of your idea, product, or process without increasing the complexity. These are opposing forces at work and must be held in balance. It is important to also realize that it may not be possible to move straight across the axis to be more useful. It is a normal part of the process to increase the system elements and a part of the process that you must go through.  Many times the insights that make it possible to simplify things cannot be found until you first make them more complicated.

As it relates to your CRM software implementation you might find yourself excited about your new found power of customization and configuration. And that power might have you increasing the utility along one axis, but also increasing the complexity on the other.  To an experienced user who is familiar with page layouts full of fields it might seem incredibly useful. But to the novice, it might just look, well… complicated. Here are a few places where we recommend asking yourself if reducing the extra add on’s might actually make things more useful.

1. Page Layouts:  Do you have a large number of fields and field groups on your page layouts?  Are many of your fields only used by a few of the users and not used by others?  Consider using role specific page layouts to simplify things for each of the users.  Role specific page layouts allow you to remove fields from one Role’s layouts while leaving them there for other roles.

2. Sales Process:  As a general rule- if your PlanPlus Online sales processes have more than 10 steps, you might be guilty of overcomplicating things. Consider using tasks within your process steps, or removing redundant steps all together.

3. Drop down Menu Values:  Do you have long lists in your drop down menus of unused values? If you have too many administrators with the power to add to the drop down menus chances are you might have duplicate, or almost duplicate values.  Consider taking an inventory of your drop down menus.  Gather key stakeholders and get them to agree on a common set of values that will allow you to simplify the menus.

4. Training Library:  As a vendor, we provide a large number of training resources in the form of YouTube videos, PDF’s, self-paced trainings and more.  This large amount of training might seem overly complex to a new user.  Consider creating a customized training resource that has just the videos that are most relevant for your users and putting it together in a website format.

5. Purge your task list.  Do you have tasks on your daily or master task list that are over 6 months old?  Some people like to keep them there but in reality are never going to get to them. Most of the time we recommend writing it down so you don’t forget it, but this time around we are going to encourage you to get rid of tasks that you are never going to do.  It will make you feel better. It is sort of like cleaning off your desk or throwing away old papers.  It gives you a sense of renewal and will make room for things that are more important.

These are just a few tips that will help you find more utility on the far side of complexity.

Note: Some of the features mentioned in this post are only available in the Business Edition of