Achieving Simplicity From Complexity

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."– Leonardo da Vinci

We are all familiar with the old adage “less is more.” Yet there is only a half-truth in that statement.

The consumer journey has become more complex. The strategies that drive how we reach, engage, and influence the consumer are becoming more complex. The methods and systems that we use to plan, buy and optimize media are becoming more complex. Cross-functional collaborative dependencies have become more complex.

We must embrace complexity.

Managing the growing complexity across converging traditional, digital, social, and mobile channels is challenging. However, one of the most formidable tasks within an industry that is increasingly reliant on algorithms, technology stacks, and data, is identifying and presenting simple, elegant and powerful ideas and patterns of useful insight among the chaos.

The Data Paradox

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” – Mark Twain

The digital era has had a profound impact on the staggering amount of data created on a daily basis. We are operating and evolving in the era of big data.

“Big data” will prove to be one of the prevalent buzzwords of 2012, and the implications of how the data fire hose affects the digital marketing industry are very real. The amount of global data doubles every two years, faster than even Moore’s law predicted (source: IDC ‘Extracting Value from Chaos” study). Social sharing and the emergence of new devices only exacerbate the volume of unstructured data. Innovation in how we capture, search, discover and analyze this data is essential to tame the beast.

Navigating the complexity of the growing digital ecosystem and the influx of data is no longer optional. Successful organizations must ensure that the right resources are in place both internally and externally that are in tune with the evolving ecosystem, can separate hype from reality, develop strategies that best match the evolving consumer journey, and cultivate measurement programs that yield actionable insights.

Conversely, and maybe most importantly — this complexity must be interpreted, prioritized and presented as simple ideas that inform cross-functional teams within the organization.

Complexity and simplicity must coexist.

Good Simplicity Vs. Bad Simplicity

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." – Albert Einstein

Creating simplicity from complexity is very different than being simple. Don’t hastily present simple ideas out of a fear of being misunderstood, or because mediocrity is tolerated – rather, take the time to translate the complexity behind your ideas into succinct and digestible concepts, framed in a context that your organization can understand. Doing so requires an intense focus and demonstrates a true understanding of the dynamics driving the evolution in consumer behavior and media trends. Anyone working in digital marketing can take an hour to explain some of the radical changes in the digital ecosystem; only a true digital leader can do so in five minutes.

Criteria for Complex Simplicity

In order for ideas, analysis or insights to be valuable to an organization, they must conform to the following three basic principles:

Simple: Ideas and insights should be presented in a manner that is easy to understand and digest. This does not discount the value of the complexity behind how the ideas were derived. However, executives (and most people) don’t want to drown in the minutiae.

Actionable: Insights that are not actionable are merely interesting. In today’s fast-paced and demanding business climate, nobody has time for interesting.

Scalable: Investments of time, energy and budgets are always prioritized for the most scalable and effective opportunities. This task begins with developing thoughtful hypotheses and employing sound measurement and analytics methodologies.

You were hired because you understand and get excited about the minutiae. But you’ll be promoted and praised because you protect everyone else from it.

Only if we understand can we care. – Jane Goodall

How well do you transform today’s digital complexity into digestible simplicity within your company? Share your challenges and triumphs in the comments, or hit me on Twitter @jasonheller.

Originally published Feb 28, 2012 in MediaPost's Online Spin.

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