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Complexity crushes organizations. This book tells you how to ‘Simplify Work.’

simplify-work-coverIs your organization paralyzed by rules, processes and other things that slow it down and prevent innovation? Have you ever  wondered how your business became so complex? Have you spent hours on tasks, knowing you’ve done work, but not feeling like you’ve accomplished anything?

Jesse W. Newton, author of “Simplify Work,” has some suggestions. Simplify your business. Design a better way of doing things. Focus on what matters most.

It’s fitting, then, that Newton’s book has only five chapters, and is short enough that you can read it on an airplane or train ride and perhaps still have some time leftover to ponder how you’re going to simplify your business and your own life.

Newton is the founder and CEO of Simplify Work LLC, a consultancy that specializes in reducing complexity at organizations. He lays out the problem and his proposed solution in chapter 1: “Bogged Down in a Spaghetti of Structure, Process, Systems, and Rules.” These days, market developments move so quickly that businesses must be more nimble, and workers must use their talents on the highest priorities for a business to keep up, Newton argues.

In Chapter 2, “Using Design Thinking to Simplify Work,” Newton examines the human-centered approach to change as a tool for simplifying an organization. Rather than taking a strictly analytical approach, designers look at problems through the eyes of a consumer or a worker. It makes sense to focus on how to enable workers to do their best work on the most important business priorities, because machines are taking over low-value, repeatable work, he says.

Newton’s process for simplifying an organization through design thinking is itself expressed simply: it has only three steps. The first, empathizing and illuminating, requires more listening and learning about how your organization enables work. By asking great questions, the problem-solver can unlock the reality of how an organization operates. Newton recommends staying in that phase for as long as possible, then looking for patterns in the information collected. Next, consider the top five opportunities for simplification, with an eye on how much they would impact performance and how easy the change would be to implement.

The second step, ideation, involves brainstorming on how to solve problems. The team should agree on core principles and objectives, and work in a collaborative process. Having people with different backgrounds can help fuel innovation. Newton recommends looking for solutions that target a root cause of things that get in the way of peak performance, and brainstorming how to reduce and eliminate them. Once the top three to five solutions are chosen, the team can move to step 3, prototyping and iterative implementation. By rapidly testing solutions and capturing feedback from the tests to improve the solutions, your organization can reduce the risk of major failure, he says. Newton also advocates using behavioral economics and neuroscience in change management to help your organization boost adoption of new ways of working.

Chapter 3, “Common Simplification Focal Areas,” identifies common sources of complexity in organizations, and some tactics that can help target them. “Chapter 4, Simplify You,” is a plan for how you can live simply, so you can take control, be more productive and be a happier person. And “Chapter Five, Your Invitation to Simplify Work,” is so simple it needs no explanation beyond its title.

If complexity and its associated negative feelings are your organization’s problem, “Simplify Work” may give you the nudge you need to work on putting the happiness back into your workplace.

Simplify Work

Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity and Engagement

By Jesse W. Newton

Morgan James Publishing. 174 pages. $16.95

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