KISS: Keep Innovation Simple, Sweetheart
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
One of the underlying maxims of engineering is that of KISS, an acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or, as I prefer: “Keep It Simple Sweetheart”. And if you have ever watched a project evolve from concept to design to implementation, you will understand the importance of Kiss. When new ideas are at the drawing board, they are often simple, elegant concepts. But, as more people become involved, they all want to add features to the concept. As a result, the design must become increasingly complex in order so support all the proposed features.
However, many of those proposed features will prove useless. They will add complexity to the design of the project, they will make the finished product more expensive to purchase and maintain and they will offer no real benefits to the end user.
Cake, for Example
For example, let us imagine your team wants to make a chocolate cake. You begin to compile the recipe with ingredients like: flour, sugar, eggs, baker's chocolate, etc, when a team member says: “let's add walnuts. Chocolate cake with walnuts is yummy!”
And another team member suggests: “why don't we give it a whipped cream centre? I had a chocolate cake last week with a whipped cream centre and it was probably the best chocolate cake I've ever had.”
Meanwhile others suggest peanut-butter frosting, adding coconut flakes, layers of strawberry jam, shredded carrots on the top, making the cake in the shape of a turkey (to mark the US Thanksgiving holiday which is coming up), roasting the cake over an open fire, and so on.
Before you know it, the simple chocolate cake you began making is turning into a culinary disaster which will require a supermarket full of ingredients, take all day to make and will almost certainly taste terrible.
One way or another, the group needs to keep their cake simple and that will mean reducing the number of suggested ingredients and devising a simple, but tasty chocolate cake – probably focusing on quality ingredients and careful preparation rather than an excess of ingredients and convoluted preparation.
This is a lesson we should bear in mind when innovating. When looking at how to improve products or services we are almost inevitably looking for ways to make those products more complex. I have been using word processors for more than 20 years, including around a dozen years of Microsoft Word. In all that time, I have never seen a company roll out a simpler word processor – even though the number of new features introduced over the past ten years have been minuscule, offering no real added value, particularly in view of their added complexity. Indeed, my heart goes out to people – such as my neighbour - only now learning how to use MS Word. The number of absolutely useless features they face will only reinforce their beliefs that computers are overly complex.
In fact, when next brainstorming new product and service features, don't ask “what new features can we add to product X?” or “What new services can we offer to our customers?” Rather, ask “How can we make our product simpler to use?” or “How can we make our range of services simpler for our clients to understand.”
And it goes without saying that you should always be asking “how can we make our operations simpler?”, “how can we make our supply chain simpler?”
Indeed, simpler products and services not only benefit your clients, who often find simpler goods easier to use effectively, but also benefit you. If you can simplify product X so it requires fewer parts, you reduce your manufacturing costs. If your customers can understand your products better, you reduce your documentation and customer service costs.
In short, don't always innovate to make things more complex, innovate to simplify. And remember KISS.
© 2005 Jeffrey Baumgartner
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