red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen



The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster

Bill Jensen
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Publishing ©2000


Are you running on information overload? Too much to do and not enough time? How do you figure out what's important, how to get things done, make successful decisions, work productively?

Bill Jensen's Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster draws on a study of over 2500 people in 460 companies and states the crux of the problem: "The hardest work is figuring out what to do in a world of infinite choices."

According to Jensen's sources, "cognitive overload" costs U.S. industry $1.3 trillion through problems such as work complexity's drain on the economy, the cost of stress-related problems, business' tab for remedial education, and yearly fees for management consulting. In striving for clarity and simplicity, however, people can work smarter by recognizing what's valuable and ignoring what's not important. And Jensen practices what he preaches in this relatively small, clearly written handbook for "simple" success. Just remember: "simple" doesn't mean it's easy. You still have to do the work of change.

In slightly over 200 pages filled with chapter punchlines, one-page summaries, short quizzes, discussion points, theory corners, simple notes, models, examples, meaningful graphics, and typographical shifts that get attention and highlight key points, Jensen describes the concept of simplicity, helps us appreciate how work got to be so complex, and offers solutions for what to do about it, including a call to change how we structure companies.

"Simplicity," says Jensen, is "the art of making the complex clear," and it "can give us the power to get stuff done.... It's a prerequisite if we want to leverage the untapped energy, innovation, creativity, and ideas that already exist in our organizations." But in order to achieve this power, we have to change some habits, especially how we use time. "By changing how you organize and share what you know, you'll spend a lot less time on...things that don't matter and a lot more time on things that do." Workplaces must organize time both so work can get done and so people can think — or you've lost your creativity, innovation, and competitive advantage, all of which reside in your workers.

Senior executives can facilitate simplicity by "working backward from what people need. People will trust the corporate infrastructure to help them work smarter if tools, processes, and information are grounded in their needs. Simpler companies start where employees and customers meet, then work backwards into business needs."

While most work is no longer done with brute strength, many businesses operate as if it was. We're knowledge workers now, and "productive knowledge work," states Jensen, "is all about how we use each other's time and attention as we try to get stuff done. Your worst competitor is day-to-day confusion — the time it takes everyone to figure out what to do and what not to do." A shocking "60 to 80 percent of us can't find or translate the info[rmation] we need for decisions." To get simple, we must compete on clarity by using time differently, we must design smarter work by working backward from what people actually need, and we must lead through navigation — structuring companies according to the questions people ask, creating maps that follow human nature.

Jensen has written several other books, the newest of which is The Simplicity Survival Handbook, and recently contributed as a guest editor to the staff blog at Fast Company magazine.


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