The Genius of Simplicity

The art of simplicity is genius. Simple people see as simple what others see as complex. In classical Hebrew, the language of the Bible, the word for simple and for perfect are the same, because perfection lies in simplicity not in complexity.

I was 24 years old when I started my first job in business as a trainee trader in a global commodity trading organization. I knew nothing about international trading at that time, in fact I knew nothing about business altogether! . During my induction I was exposed to countless facets of the business and was overwhelmed by its complexity. My last session of induction was a couple of hours with the CEO who later became my mentor and taught me so much of what I know about business today. Mr. Raphaely noticed how overwhelmed I was feeling and said to me, "Look, David, it's all very simple. You buy something for x and you sell it for x+plus. The plus less your expenses is your profit. If anyone makes our business look more complicated than that, come and let me know. And don't get intimidated by zeros. The principles are the same whether you are dealing with $100 or $100,000,000."

One of the masters of simplicity is my friend and client, Alan Pullinger, CEO of an exceptionally complex business. Rand Merchant Bank at FirstRand Ltd. is one of the most successful investment banks in the world. Alan took over at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis and has steered his bank through the turbulence with masterful skill and prodigious personal stature. Once we were talking about the common denominator of successful people across diverse walks of life. I cited various studies on the subject and ideas emanating from my own research. Alan cut through it all with a simple view of the world of success: Successful people all have a sense of urgency to them, a quality of persistence and insistence.

On another occasion Alan told me that he looks for one quality above all others in the people he recruits into his bank: I need people who care. Everything else we can teach them, cultivate in them and develop in them. But you can't make someone care.

Urgency and care. So simple and yet so all encompassing. Urgency without care can feel aggressive. Care without urgency can be terribly irritating. The secret sauce is Urgency + Care. Imagine everyone in your team having a sense of urgency and real care. Imagine the people you meet when you go to a store, a bank, or a workman you call in for a repair. Imagine the customer service agent you speak to on the phone, or the flight attendant on a plane. Imagine your physician, lawyer or children's teachers. Imagine teenagers on the street and college students on campuses. Imagine if they all had a sense of urgency and they genuinely cared - not about themselves, their entitlements and their job or carriers, but about you and your needs.

How much do we truly care about the people we serve in the moment of serving them? How much do we care not about the business they bring us, but about them? How urgently do we feel the need to satisfy them and to complete what they expect of us? How urgently do we feel the need for efficiency so that we can serve more people more affordably more sustainably? How much do we really care about our shareholders and investors, about our employees and team members, not about the capital or talent they invest with us, but about them as people? Do we demonstrate urgency and care in the way we walk, sit, stand and talk?

Alan's formula is ingeniously simple: Demonstrate urgency and care in every one of your gestures and expect it from others. You might be surprised.

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