Pioneer Simplicity

Posted: May 9, 2013 in Simplicity
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SimplicityWe’re nearing the end of this five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana.  Those values, again, are:

I’ve also written about the helpfulness of using these values in decision making.

With five excellent, simply stated values such as these, it’s hard to have a favorite, but today’s subject of Pioneer Simplicity may be my favorite of the bunch.  Why is that?  Why is this value important?  How can I model it and encourage it in others?

At a personal level, I’m a fairly simple guy.  I live in my modest 70-year-old Cape Cod home that I would happily empty of half its contents.  I drive a 12-year-old car that I will drive until it has no more miles left in it for anyone to drive.  I try to live out my core values of faith, family, hard work, integrity and kindness daily.  I’m planning to cut my hair back to a buzz cut or shaved completely soon because I’m tired of messing with it.  My happiest trash pickup days are the ones where I’ve cleared out more clutter from the home or garage that we haven’t needed or used in years.  One or two weeks a year I book a room at a monastery for an extended period of reading, silence, solitude, rest, reflection, study and renewal.

I am perfectly happy having a few slices of bread and butter or peanut butter and crackers for dinner.  I like my personal spaces at home, work or on the drive between the two to be clean and orderly.  I want no drama queens or kings complicating my daily existence.  I subscribe to the most basic cable service available for $15 a month that gets me 24 channels.  You will rarely catch me spending $4-5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks (which should have been named “Five Bucks”) because I prefer my hot tea with honey in the morning, water in the afternoon, and my nightly luxury of one soft drink. I have an extremely low tolerance level for institutions, organizations and processes that are unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

So when I consider the value Pioneer Simplicity, it resonates with me personally.  Still, I know that there is more I can do to model this value in my personal life.  I could still have far fewer things.  I could be less dependent on technology.  I could choose not to fill every waking hour of the day with things to do from my unending task list.

Professionally, my perception of this value is shaped greatly by the fact that my company is a large, Fortune 100 company, over 50 years old, in a highly-regulated industry, with about 45,000 employees scattered all across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  It is probably inevitable that as companies grow, they get more complicated.  Processes get new steps tacked on to the simpler steps that accomplished them before.  New concerns and fears spawn new steps, processes, approvals, policies, restrictions and the corresponding frustrations that go with them.  But is all of that really necessary and beneficial?  I doubt it.

Old ways of thinking and those who harbor them tend to hang on for dear life when challenged by newcomers, outsiders and others more concerned with getting things done than with getting things done in a certain way.  Turf wars linger.  Silos emerge.  Barriers get erected that stifle creativity, innovation, ingenuity and fluidity.  If companies aren’t careful, they eventually morph into complicated, bureaucratic, hierarchical, controlling entities more concerned with protecting tradition and process than they are with accomplishing their business objectives in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

That’s why it is a beautiful thing to stop in the midst of a convoluted, complicated process and ask, “How does this pioneer simplicity?  What can we do to simplify this for ourselves as employees and for our customers to improve their experience?”  We need to develop the habit of asking these questions in conversations and meetings before bad, complicated processes get written in stone.  Let’s start thinking of radically simple ways of doing what we are charged with doing.

Take corporate policies, for instance.  How many internal policies are so detailed that it would take one’s full-time effort just to be aware of the details we are supposedly adhering to, much less to actually abide by them?  By attempting to imagine every scenario and respond via policy update to every unfortunate situation that occurs, we try to take simple human thought and accountability out of daily decision making, thereby dehumanizing the environment and constricting creativity.  This is an area where I’d like to know how many pages of policies we actually have on file, and then mandate that they all be simplified to no more than 1/10th their current size, maybe no more than one page each.  If you can’t explain something to me simply in a way I can grasp it, that’s your problem, not mine.

What about the processes we follow by choice or my mandate?  What would happen if individuals and departments selected just one process that they believe to be too complicated or time-consuming, and worked on simplifying it?  Do all of those approvals really have to happen in that order over that time frame via that method, or can we empower the people we have hired to make decisions to do things in the manner they deem best within, of course, the confines of state and federal regulatory requirements?  Similarly, do we have to lock down our technology devices to such a degree that many employees have better tools and software at home to work with than they have at work?

I don’t know what processes and policies contradict the value of simplicity for other areas of our company, but you can rightly deduce from the above examples that the ones that most often cause our team to bang our heads against the wall are related to restrictive policies, time-consuming approval processes, and efforts to control technology to the point of keeping us from doing our jobs efficiently and effectively.  We still find ways to get things done and to do them well, but there is room for improvement.  Your experience may be very different.

As we consider this value, let’s not forget the verb in the phase Pioneer Simplicity.  The word pioneer brings to mind those daring people of old who didn’t wait for others to lead.  They took off in directions uncharted because they believed in the value of the adventure and the potential of what that exploration might yield.  With or without others, they weren’t afraid to try something new.  They faced the danger.  They left behind the familiar.  Perhaps they suffered some along the way, but in the end, our world is a better place because of their efforts.

There is an elegance and beauty in simplicity.  For ourselves personally and professionally, we really should try it more often.

Pioneer simplicity.

Comments
  1. Amen!

    I have to say Jeff I might end up writing a leadership series about these values too. Thanks for the idea.

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