Arguing for simplicity

I experienced something of a failure this week. I was in a meeting trying to argue the case for making things simple and I failed. It wasn’t that the other people in the meeting didn’t understand the value of simplicity, it was just that the needs of the organisation won out over simple common sense. Those needs revolved around the need to protect the organisation from claims that we had not provided enough detailed and accurate information to the public. In other words it was a ‘butt covering’ exercise. We were more concerned about our legal position than we were about being clear and helpful. My argument that we had a moral obligation to provide the community with clear information fell on deaf ears. It seems that it is better for us to be obtuse than helpful, and it struck me that this was probably a common problem in a range of industries.

I imagine that the disclaimers we need to sign before undergoing surgery are the result of litigation. We need to sign a form saying that we know about every single complication that might occur and that we are willing to waiver our rights to compensation if those things actually happen. This is not about informing the patient, but about protecting the hospital or the doctor. It’s the same at my workplace, even though I don’t work in a medical environment. We are heavily focussed on ourselves, rather than on our clients.

It’s sad though, because it means that in cases where it’s not a matter of life or death, we still focus on protecting our interests rather than helping the community to understand what the issues are so that they can protect themselves. This led me to thinking about how we could argue the case for simplicity, and whether this could lead us to being in a better position legally, simply because we had provided really clear information to the public.

On reflection, here are a few things I wish I had said…

  1. People are less likely to engage in litigious behaviour if they feel that they have been well informed. If you write convoluted product disclosure statements (or terms and conditions) that people don’t understand they are inclined to be annoyed and angry. (I don’t have any evidence for this, but it just makes sense to me).
  2. If you are clear, people are less like to misinterpret the information and are therefore less likely to have problems.  (This will protect your organisation).
  3. People will know appreciate that you are making an effort to be clear and will feel more kindly towards you. (There is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that people are much more likely to engage in litigious behaviour if they feel that you don’t care).

In essence, the more you show that you care about your audience (by being clear and simple) the less likely you are to face problems. I wish I had said that…

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Arguing for simplicity

  1. Oh, I feel for you in this situation. Fear is a difficult emotion for people to hear through, and sometimes they do not recognize good advice from bad when they are caught in its grip.

    Dan Garder wrote a book on fear in society, called Risk, and he begins with telling that after 9-11 many Americans would not fly in airplanes. The risk of being killed on an airplane, with or without terrorists, is actually quite low. But driving in cars… very high risk. Yet, people drove their cars for the next twelve months, feeling safer and taking comfort in the familiarity of their own cars. More people died in traffic accidents in the U.S. that year than the one before or after Sept 11 2001 to Sept 11 2002. Of the increased number of traffic incidents that year, the casualty numbers were higher than those who died in the terrorist attacks.

    1. Hi Michelle and thank you for your comments. What really frustrates me is that we are constantly exhorted to provide a high level of customer service and be ‘customer focused’ but when it comes to the crunch we are just plain scared of being accountable. As you have pointed out, the actual risks of a situation can be quite different to the perceived risks. I just wish I could convince people here at work that it will be in everyone’s best interests to provide clear and concise information. I guess you could say that is my goal in life!

      1. It sounds like a request for group compassion on a daily basis… and that you’re caught between making a pretense of customer service when you are really striving toward authenticity in your relationships with your customers. Authenticity is tricky for individuals, and even more difficult for groups, perhaps because there is no clear sense in a group of what that group’s identity truly is. (despite the missions statements and motto)

        It is frustrating, but sometimes corporations or government offices don’t listen from within… it seems that consultants have better luck securing the attention. We have old and cultivated prejudices to listening to the voice within the group, and within ourselves. Perhaps this is why big groups become stagnant after a while, and need to be shaken up by a crisis?

        I feel for you… I’ve been there, too, and will probably be back there yet again.

  2. Dear Margaret I am agreeing with you, absolutely people are appreciated the concise clear information and the caring factor.

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