“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann (search for the Real, 1967)
The pressure is on. You have no time to waste. Everybody is shouting. Which do you choose? Door No. 1 or door No. 2? Decide quickly! But decide right! Your future is at stake!
JSN, my mentor major and former partner, has always had an uncanny instinct for making the right decisions. Two equally impressive job candidates? He could spot the fraud. Price the magazine at $25 or $50? His guess was almost always right. Headlines? He was a master at choosing the right rhetorical hook.
How did he do it? For years, that’s what I wanted to know. Finally, though, I think I’ve figured it out.
As smart a guy as JSN is, his mind was relatively simple when it came to business decisions. For him, business was about profit. And profit was good. For me, business was a miasma of intertwined objectives. Profit was, undeniably, one of them, but so were revenue growth, staff size, product quality, personal aggrandizement, etc. Thus, any decision I faced was pushed through a fine-filtered screen of questions: Would it grow or diminish the staff? Would it benefit or detract from my personal reputation? How would it tie into existing products thematically? What about product quality? What would customers say? What would my competitors think?
For JSN, any particular decision was a choice between one clear thing and another. For me, it was a road that split into a dozen directions — one toward danger, another toward greed, still another toward conflict, and another toward the very fires of hell.
I am exaggerating JSN’s “simplicity” to make a point. He was very good at making decisions, and his decisions were very often correct because he could see the forest for the trees. He understood that he was in business. And he understood what particular business he was in. (He used to say, “You’ve got to decide whether you are fish or fowl.”) The decisions he made on a day-to-day basis reflected this simplicity.
Today, I’m involved in many businesses and work with many decision makers. Many of them are smart. Some of them are talented. But those who do best are those who make good decisions. And making good decisions is at least partly a matter of seeing things simply.
Having a complex mind is not an advantage in business. (In fact, I wonder if it is an advantage at all. Someone once told me that people who think a lot are unhappy people. I read somewhere else that psychological studies say the happiest people are those who have the least subtle minds.) In fact, I think it’s fair to say that businessmen who think too much profit less.
If you suffer “mentis complexis,” fear not. Every business has two primary purposes: to provide a valuable product/service and to make a profit. Next time you get stuck in “what if” land, push everything else out of the way and concentrate on those two considerations. By focusing on those two, and only those two, your next decision will be easier — and probably much better for your future.