Microsoft recently sent me a survey with all the usual questions about their products and services. What an eye-opener. I used to spend most of my working life on their programs: Ran Windows programs, Outlook handled my calendar, contacts and to do’s, and Word and Powerpoint handled my writing and presentations.
The survey made me look at all these areas against Apple and Google. It made me realize how much I rely an Apple and Google for innovation, and how I’ve gradually drifted away from Microsoft’s technology. I miss Microsoft. I really do. They’re still innovative, but nothing like Apple and Google.
Judging from the emphasis in their ads, they understand that their customers want ease and simplicity. They are Easification Wannabees, which is better than being oblivious. Imagine what would happen if they were able to reach their aspirations?
- The marketplace is a powerful self-correcting mechanism.
- Even a company that totally dominated a field can be eroded.
- Never take your customers for granted.
- You cannot overestimate the power of Ease and Simplicity in driving sales.
- The Complexity Trap is almost inescapable (see below).
I’ve just tried Office 2011 for the Mac. I had high hopes that maybe Microsoft has evolved. They have, somewhat. The new Office illustrates the Complexity Trap. Once you’re in it, it’s almost impossible to get out of it because while I’m looking for a radical mutation into something as elegant as Pages, Keynote and Numbers, if they did that, their installed base would howl that things are no longer in the same place and now the program is harder to use. They struck a pretty good balance, but Word (all I’ve tried so far) certainly isn’t elegantly simple and intuitive yet. I see what they’re trying to do: gradually making it cleaner and easier. But at this rate, they’ll get there in about 25 years.
I would really like to like them again.
Why don’t some people and organizations simplify and easify their messages, products, directions, etc.?
I’m beginning to think that it’s not that they don’t want to, or don’t understand the value of simplicity and ease. I suspect that they might actually be incapable of simplifying!
Can people who understand the power of ease and simplicity, who devote large amounts of resources to these pursuits, actually be incapable of simple and easy product design, web site design, communication, structure, etc?
I’d like to raise some questions and share some musings.
I won’t bore you with the complexity, but I’ve just been sensitized to this issue in struggling to move my web site to another supplier that gives the site more speed and ease of use. I’m also switching from Drupal to WordPress and moving my mail to Google Apps Mail. So, I’m attempting to do three major switches that all have to be done at the same time. What’s important to you is that I’m learning some important life lessons and questions about Ease and Simplicity (EAS) that I thought I’d share.
You don’t have to know what they are, but WordPress and Drupal are programs for managing the content of web sites like this one. WordPress is a dream, written totally from the point of view of the user. They really understand ease and simplicity. Drupal gets the need for ease and simplicity, but they have been unable to implement it, even when they just spent years on a massive crusade to make it more user friendly.
It’s a fascinating mystery to me why some organizations like Microsoft and Drupal understand the need for ease and simplicity, but seem epistemologically unable to do it despite intense efforts. I’m not talking about the old Microsoft, which didn’t have a clue about simplicity. I’m talking about the present, hip Microsoft which desperately seems to want to simplify and make their products easier to use. There are Google, Apple and WordPress, sitting out there as outstanding examples of simplicity, dominating their markets, the most successful organizations on the planet, with everybody understanding that Ease and Simplicity (EAS) are major keys to their success, with everyone trying to emulate them, and no one able to.
Why can’t fabulous organizations, with amazing resources, copy the Ease and Simplicity that they know they need, that competitors have demonstrated are successful? It’s not that they don’t have the resources, attitudes, will, knowledge or desire. It’s not that it cannot be done: Adobe is a shining example (the only one I can think of at the moment) of a company that had hopelessly complicated products with the most capabilities in their fields. They have somehow gone to elegantly simple interfaces and explanations, while increasing the capabilities of their programs. Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, and their other programs can hardly be considered simple and easy in the grand scheme of things. But they are masterpieces of EAS, given that they are professional programs designed to have more bells, whistles and other capabilities than their competitors. They also have simpler versions, like Photoshop Elements and Lightroom, that aren’t just stripped down, they are re-designed from the users’ point of view, for the non-professional in the case of Elements, and from the photographer rather than the graphic artist point of view, in the case of Lightroom. BRAVO!
You would think that Microsoft, Drupal, all the phone companies, HP, and many others, could do anything they set their minds to, given their resources. So what’s going on and what can we learn from it?
Here’s my thinking so far: I realize that the inability to easify and simplify is related to a particular kind of knowledge blindness, but it seems to go beyond just blindness.. Knowledge blindness (and its more extreme form, expert blindness) is the inability to see things the way a beginner or less-informed person sees it. But I think that something much more profound and deeper may be operating here. Maybe it’s not just the inability to see, but Ease and Simplicity demand that someone’s mind work differently: They have to engage in an alien process. instead of piling on more and more information and features, they have to see what can be simplified or eased for the other person, even though it’s easy and simple for them. Then, they have to simplify, which, it turns out, is a very difficult process. It doesn’t only involve leaving things out. It involves many things like abstracting out the details, re-sequencing things, organizing concepts into sub-concepts or higher-level categories, forming new concepts or groups, and many other psychological, communication, and product design skills. It’s a form of thinking that very smart people don’t have to do much, because they are so smart that they can hold so much in mind, and less intelligent people can’t do because it takes a lot of intelligence.
So, my working hypothesis is this: Easification and Simplification can only be done by very intelligent people who have mastered an additional complex skill set, much like some writers and editors have mastered the art of writing simply about complex subjects. No one — to my knowledge and I’ve searched a lot — has set out the methods of easification and simplicity. Hell, there isn’t even a word “easification” “easify” or, for that matter, “funification.” I plan to write about this skill set in much greater detail. Stay tuned.
Extraordinary review of a new product by an acknowledged expert:
What an example of the kind of word of mouth no one wants to get for a new product!
So, how do you avoid such negative word of mouth?
Involve people like David Pogue as consultants from the beginning, so that you can build in features that reviewers will give positive reviews to. (He probably wouldn’t do it because of the conflict of interest, but there are other people who are just as astute and practical, just not such good writers!) But, I’m afraid that’s too superficial.
The truth is, you have to have the right philosophy, viewpoint, mindset, frame of mind – whatever you want to call it. Apple has a profound respect for the customer and an deep understanding of design. Apple understands the whole Decision Experience. That’s why the iPod isn’t just a player. It’s a whole system that makes all the decisions seamless, easy, simple and fun. Everything about the music experience is made easy, elegant, even beautiful: finding, tasting (trying), refining one’s tastes, acquiring, managing, playing, sorting, etc. (except for backing up and sharing).
Microsoft, on the other hand, has a profound understanding of cut-and-try: getting something out into the marketplace, then learning from the feedback how to gradually refine it. That’s why everyone is wary of Microsoft 1.0 anything. It’s OK if you are very early in a marketplace where no one has a product or no one has a good product, but everyone wants it. In other words, fine for wild innovators, which Microsoft has long-ago ceased to be. But against Apple???!!! Particularly iPod???!!!!!! No, I don’t think so. Microsoft just doesn’t get it — particularly doesn’t understand the overwhelming power of WOM.
I trust Apple to get it right the first time, then improve it. I don’t trust Microsoft to get it right until version 3.0 at least. That’s why I’ll unhesitatingly put Apple’s new operating system on my Mac, but wait for a long time (if ever) to put Vista on my Windows machines. (Written on a Mac by an ex-windows lover)