Merrill Lynch’s John Thiel puts “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity” at the Top of His Favorite Book List
Post on Feb 28, 2014
Merrill Lynch’s John Thiel Leads Charge Toward Goals-Based Planning
Excerpt: ”‘Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity’ has made it to the top of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management head John Thiel’s favorite book list, and it’s easy to see why. As the man in charge of keeping Bank of America’s broker-dealer unit profitable, he believes the brokerage industry is undergoing a fundamental shift toward keeping things simple. The book, by Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn (Hachette, 2013), serves to inspire Mr. Thiel as Merrill’s leadership team invests $100 million in the new Merrill Lynch One technology platform.”
BBVA and Samsung Bet on Clarity and Simplicity…and Customers Win
Article by Irene Etzkorn on Feb 25, 2014
Today was a very good day for clarity and simplicity. Major companies in myriad fields are recognizing the operational value and consumer appeal of simplicity. BBVA acquired Simple, the innovative, online bank devoted to all things unlike traditional banking—clarity, customization, visual appeal, and minimal clutter. Samsung announced new flagship smartphones and watches with the proclamation that its customers don’t want complex technology and unnecessary features.
As Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and the author of “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity,” I am heartened to see that others are learning what I have found to be true during my career. When clarity of expression reveals authentic purpose, it creates clear and compelling customer experiences. Using clarity as a compass never leads companies astray. True north can always be divined by having empathy for customer needs, not necessarily their wants.
Samsung is smart to fight companies’ typical impulse to give in to customers saying that they want every bell and whistle that can be dreamed up. In reality, consumers find too much choice and too much function overwhelming and frustrating.
Similarly, the online bank, Simple, makes check writing prohibitively expensive because that function doesn’t fit the profile of its target customers. Simple doesn’t offer every banking product under the sun, but it provides the perfectly appropriate services to its target market of digitally oriented consumers.
Smart companies lead by charting a course while continually using customer research as a guardrail to keep them on course.
The Age of Clarity. Perhaps a new constellation is forming.
Irene Etzkorn is Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and believes complexity is the greatest barrier to progress. Siegelvision helps organizations achieve clarity of purpose, clarity of expression and clarity of experience.
Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn to Present at FCS’s “Cocktails with Content—Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity.”
Event on Mar 12, 2014 in New York, NY
Alan Siegel, President and CEO, and Irene Etzkorn, Chief Clarity Officer, will present ideas from their book Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, for the attendees of The Financial Communications Society’s “Cocktails with Content.” Alan and Irene will then lead a panel of senior financial marketers who will discuss how to apply the principles and practice of simplicity to the financial sector.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
New York, NY
Treating the Problem of Inadequate Hospital Communications
Article by Irene Etzkorn on Feb 19, 2014
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse, wrote about the inadequacy of doctor/patient communications. She astutely zeroed in on one major point: it doesn’t matter what a doctor or nurse says, only what the patient hears.
In my book, Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, I discussed the need for empathy when writing, speaking, drawing or otherwise communicating. While the unfamiliarity of medical terminology is often what springs to mind as a communication impediment, several other factors also play a role in miscommunication.
One key element is the context of the interaction. A patient lying in bed, talking to a doctor who is standing over her, is an unnatural setting for conversation. Similarly, the patient never knows when a doctor will appear; as a result she is unprepared to capture vital information. Of course, the anxiety associated with medical news often blurs memories and clouds mental processing, but even just realizing the setting can be revelatory.
As Ms. Brown mentioned, studies show that a doctor sitting down, rather than standing, improves the interaction because it makes the doctor seem more interested in the conversation and less hurried. It also helps when doctors verbally repeat what a patient says to affirm that there is mutual understanding. Providing a pen and paper for patients to write down questions and record answers can also aid retention of key information.
Another communications issue is the degree of engagement. This has become critical with the advent of electronic records. Doctors spend the majority of a conversation inputting data on a computer, rather than making eye contact with the patient. This is a dehumanizing scenario, which is likely to make patients feel that they are “interrupting” the doctor if they speak over his typing.
Lack of time also leads to poor communication. Doctors are not the villains in this piece. Ponder the fact that a dermatologist must sign his name on forms almost 30,000 times a year, according to an article in the Southern Medical Journal, and you can sympathize with their curt interactions. Add the fact that they are working 20-hour shifts in hospitals and the stage is set for brisk, abrupt conversation.
What to do? Eliminate all the unnecessary complexity in the hospital experience and mitigate what must remain. Most hospitals, insurers and healthcare providers tweak and modify small moments of the patient experience but rarely step back and take a comprehensive, blank-slate approach. Voluminous paperwork, repetitive questions, confusing care instructions, multiple phone trees and intimidating terminology all affect the patient experience—often adversely.
A rare few healthcare institutions recognize that empathy is the key to clarity and simplicity. Patient experience is the culmination of myriad interactions—every sight, sound and engagement is important. As one leading hospital found, simply noting the questions and impressions formed by patients during their journey from diagnosis to treatment can be remarkably revealing, and lead to insights for improvement.
Mapping a patient journey illustrates several “hassle factors” that surface:
1 Interminable waiting. Wait times in doctors’ offices are reaching the 20-minute threshold, which many surveyed patients cite as their tolerance limit. The average wait time jumped nationally to 19 minutes, based on a report from Vitals, a healthcare survey organization that analyzed patient-reported wait times in 2012 from its database of more than 870,000 physicians. Updating patients via text or in-person announcements about delays would reduce frustration. Giving them surprisingly useful information (not the typical waiting room video about eating your vegetables and exercising regularly) would also help to mitigate frustration.
2 Annoying repetition. “I told a nurse my entire medical history in the ER and she entered it in a computer at my bedside and then someone asked me the same questions upstairs when they admitted me.” In addition to the annoyance of constantly explaining symptoms, repetition also plants a seed of doubt about the validity and accuracy of the institutions’ recordkeeping. Faith and confidence are critical in healthcare much as they are in finance. If my brokerage firm asked me to recite the history of all my stock trades every time I transacted business, I would feel mighty uncomfortable. Instead of asking again, tell the patient what you have already gleaned and ask them to verify the information.
3 Jargon and verbosity. Jargon is intimidating to patients, and unnecessary.. Wake up from coronary bypass surgery and the nurse asks if you are in pain from your “cabbage.” Patients must also ask when they don’t understand—you wouldn’t skip over it if your homebuilder told you he had to “sister-beam” the house.
4 Digitizing complexity. There has been a lot of discussion (and some progress) about the liberating promise of information technology and the power of a single platform for electronic health records. We couldn’t agree more. However, unless we first address the underlying complexity in processes and communications, we fear that this will lead to incremental, rather than comprehensive, change.
Streamlining and simplifying how patients, doctors, scientists, managers and public health officials communicate, transact and interact with each other can deliver dramatic increases in productivity and efficiency. We know this from our work with insurers, providers, pharmaceutical companies and government agencies. What’s also clear is that these efforts can lead to savings of hundreds and potentially billions of dollars each and every year.
Accept the simplification challenge
We challenge everyone in the industry to take a deep breath and remember what the mission of healthcare is: to treat patients. A valuable first step in healthcare reform will be to adopt a truly patient-centric approach by spending the time, effort and resources necessary to simplify and rethink patient communications.
Complexity is the coward’s way out. Breakthrough simplicity requires empathizing (by perceiving others’ needs and expectations), distilling (by reducing to its essence the substance of one’s offer) and clarifying (by making the offering easier to understand or use). Hospitals, doctors and patients will benefit from all three. Be brave—treat patients as people.
Irene Etzkorn is Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and believes complexity is the greatest barrier to progress. Siegelvision helps organizations achieve clarity of purpose, clarity of expression and clarity of experience.
Irene Etzkorn Leads a BrightTALK Webcast That Reveals How Simplicity in Financial Communications Can Foster Consumer Engagement
Post on Feb 12, 2014
“Leveraging Simplicity in Financial Stories to Build Engagement”
Webcast Channel: BrightTALK/Sutton Creative
About: Irene Etzkorn clarifies the connection between simplicity and financial communications in the 3rd installment of “Profit and Lunch: Financial Stories at Noon.” Irene shares her insights on how clarity, empathy, and distillation can be effective means to build consumer trust and foster engagement across the financial services sector.
250 Words Cites “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity” as an Example of the New Trend of Simplicity
Post on Feb 10, 2014
Simplicity: A New Trend
Publication/Site: 250 Words/ 250Words.com
Excerpt: ”Simplicity is in. Apple products are ‘beautiful’ and ‘intuitive.’ Google’s homepage is ‘clean.’ What do the two most valuable brands in the world tell us about our preferences? We just want the world to make sense. Tax codes, fine print, the DMV—these nefarious thorns of modern life are the source of rampant anxiety. People praise elegance. No one wins awards for complexity. The irony is there’s ‘nothing simple about simplicity,’ as Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn state in Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity.”
Cornell University’s College of Engineering Finds its Identity By Breaking the Rules
Post on Jan 31, 2014
Engineering College “Breaks the Rules”
Publication/Site: Cornell Chronicle
Excerpt: ”An aggressive new strategy for communicating the distinctive qualities of the College of Engineering to prospective students, faculty and alumni has a rallying cry: ‘Break the rules.’ Following more than a year of surveys, interviews and analysis, the College of Engineering is launching a brand new look and feel, emphasizing the theme of ‘breaking the rules’ – that is, a culture of independent thinking, challenging conventional wisdom and edging past perceived barriers to achieve scientific breakthroughs.”
Using Data Visualization to Bring Clarity to the Issue of Income Inequality
Article by BIll Bonnell on Jan 29, 2014
A recurring topic of political conversation, as evinced in President Obama’s State of the Union address, the issue of income inequality has risen to great prominence. Not surprisingly, the two political parties disagree about how to attack it, which has become par for the course in D.C.
But it reminds us that, even with a shared objective, presenting the facts in a clear and compelling way is not so easy. It always involves using number comparisons, which can seem abstract to most people. The latest statistic to make the rounds was, “The 85 Richest People In The World Have As Much Wealth As The 3.5 Billion Poorest.” Assuming it is correct, it is an astounding statement. But we all know that when you talk about the world there are a lot of really poor people in Africa, India and the third world. So beyond being a good quote at a cocktail party, what impact does it have on most Americans?
Here is something that really does bring the story home. It is a short data visualization video created by an anonymous person who goes by the moniker of Politizane. Take a minute to watch it.
The creator uses the following data breakdown to illustrate a shocking fact:
1 What Americans think the income distribution is in the country
2 What they think it should be
3 What it actually is
The surprising thing is that 90% of Americans are in agreement about the first two points. I don’t know what else 90% of Americans agree upon but I don’t think it’s much, which is why it is even more shocking that we’re all wrong.
The video dramatically illustrates the power of visualizing raw data to create a compelling story. How different things would be if the folks in Washington learned to use these techniques to tell Americans the facts as to what was happening in the country. Maybe the 92% of Americans who agree on the issue could also agree on what to do about it.
Since When Does “Simply” Mean Healthy?
Article by Irene Etzkorn on Jan 28, 2014
How ironic. I read two nutrition-related tidbits in the news on the same day. Ironic because they fit the definition of “one foot forward, two feet back.”
Moving forward, the US Food and Drug Administration is planning to update the nutrition facts label on packaged food reflecting science-based, nutritional recommendations with a goal of making the information as clear and useful as possible. It wants to make the labels larger for better readability. The FDA is also considering more granular detail about sugar, less about fat, and an overall emphasis on calorie count regardless of source. Amazingly, in the US, we have only had mandated food nutrition labels of any sort since 1990, so the effort to keep refining the information to make it more actionable for consumers is worthwhile.
Moving backwards, PepsiCo, parent of Frito-Lay, has dropped the word “natural” on some of its products and instead is using the word “simply.” “Simply Natural” Cheetos (now that is a mind-blowing phrase) has become “Simply” Cheetos, as have Ruffles potato chips. The ingredients haven’t changed.
To me, this is a case of knowing that consumers gravitate towards “simplicity” because they view it as honest, straightforward and healthy. While food companies are facing legal challenges to the use of the word “natural,” they seem to be seeking refuge in another appealing word—Simple. These two words are not synonymous.
Haagen-Dazs similarly latched on to this idea a few years ago when it introduced “Five,” which is ice cream with only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs and a flavor such as ginger or lemon. In this case, a short list of familiar, wholesome ingredients is a much better fit with the concept of simplicity.
We respond to the idea of just five ingredients because we assume that they won’t be high-fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, whey solids, artificial coloring and artificial flavoring. Now many would argue that fat- and sugar-laden ice cream is hardly the bedrock of healthy nutrition no matter how short the list of ingredients. So while a shorter list may be quicker to read and more transparent, transparency itself is not the goal—we need to focus on what is revealed behind the curtain.
So, the moral of the story is read recipes instead of labels and cook and bake your own food. But, at the very least, read.
Irene Etzkorn Leads a BrightTALK Webinar on Simplicity and Financial Communications
Event on Feb 12, 2014
Irene Etzkorn, Chief Clarity Officer, will speak with Eileen Sutton, of SuttonCreative, about the importance of simplicity in financial communications, and the role it plays in building consumer trust and fostering engagement. This webinar, which is free and open to the public, is the 3rd installment of “Profit and Lunch: Financial Stories at Noon,” presented by BrightTALK.
February 12, 2014
12:00 p.m. EST
Questioning the Status Quo: Kimberly-Clark’s Continuous Improvement Conference
Article by Irene Etzkorn on Jan 21, 2014
It was a great pleasure for Alan Siegel and I, Irene Etzkorn, to be the keynote speakers for Kimberly-Clark’s Continuous Improvement Executive Leadership Conference last week in Georgia. Being amidst like-minded people who recognize the benefits of streamlining processes, winnowing choices and clarifying products was inspiring and gratifying. As the authors of Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, our experience is often qualitative rather than quantitative, so we particularly enjoyed hearing the war stories of a large group who focus on operational and financial analysis rather than on the communications and branding aspects of customer touch points.
The conversations were wide-ranging from how to reduce the proliferation of SKUs to instilling clear communication across a global enterprise. We were particularly intrigued by the questions relating to retail environments. The discussion often turned to the topic of balancing seemingly insatiable consumer demand for “more bells and whistles” while recognizing that consumers often reject myriad choice as too complicated when it is provided.
The Continuous Improvement team exemplified the Corporation’s values—focused on accountability through the use of metrics as well as a genuine willingness to question the current value of legacy processes, products, and programs. As speakers and advisors to corporations for more than three decades, we have experienced many corporate cultures. In this case, we were impressed with the size of the crowd devoted to this topic and the caring hospitality shown to us as guest speakers. The collegial feel of the room and numerous questions gave the impression that the attendees were at ease with one another and used to working collaboratively. We took away the belief that Continuous Improvement is being positioned as a way of doing all of the company’s business, rather than as a program or an initiative meant to rectify and then be forgotten.
It was a heartening day for us and we wish the Continuous Improvement team at Kimberly-Clark ongoing success as they empathize, distill and clarify their way to breakthrough simplicity in their markets.
ExxonMobil’s Branding Misstep
Article by BIll Bonnell on Jan 9, 2014
ExxonMobil has launched a new ad campaign that uses an energy quiz — one page asks a question and the next page shows the answer – as seen below. (You can find the full quiz on its website.)
Given the national debate on energy over the last year or so, the answer is not a shock to most readers of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
But what is puzzling is the signature at bottom of the print ad — the ExxonMobil logo followed by the words, “Brands of ExxonMobil: Exxon, Mobil, Mobil1.” The question that immediately rose in my mind was: who in the United States capable of reading this ad would not know these were ExxonMobil’s brands? Perhaps it was a little surprising to see the name of the oil product, Mobil1, right next to the iconic Exxon and Mobil names, but wouldn’t you think Mobil1 was a sub-brand of Mobil? And what happened to Esso, whose gas stations are all over Europe and the rest of the world?
As a longtime ExxonMobil shareholder, I find this signature is unclear as to whether ExxonMobil is a gas station company or an energy exploration company. Being fairly certain it’s the latter, I went to the website to see if I could get a better understanding.
The website did little to bring clarity to ExxonMobil’s brand architecture. The signature at the bottom of the site depicts the ExxonMobil logo followed by those for Exxon, Mobil, Esso (ok, it hasn’t been demoted) and XTO.
Huh, “XTO”? What’s that?
Clicking that link brings one to XTO Energy, a natural gas company that merged with ExxonMobil in 2010. Here’s how XTO Energy describes itself on its website:
“Safely and responsibly extracting natural gas from U.S. shale and other tight formations is our principal business. We also produce crude oil and natural gas liquids in the United States. We’re the nation’s largest holder of natural gas reserves, and we have one of the highest drilling success rates in the industry.”
So why did XTO get included in the website ad signature and not the print ad signature? It’s just another example of how the new ad campaign brings inconsistency and confusion to ExxonMobil’s brand identity.
One might also wonder what part of ExxonMobil is the big, global energy explorer, producer and researcher. I presume it is ExxonMobil itself, not one of the gas station brands. If that is the case, the company would be much better off clarifying the bigger role the ExxonMobil brand plays in the world instead of trying to link it to the retailing of refined oil products.
If the new ad campaign was meant to consistently represent the brand, it clearly has not succeeded.
Speaking Engagement: “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity”
Event on Jan 14, 2014 in Roswell, Georgia
Siegelvision CEO and President Alan Siegel and Chief Clarity Officer Irene Etzkorn will present “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity” to an audience of executives at Kimberly-Clark’s Continuous Improvement Conference.
January 14, 2014
Kimberly-Clark’s Continuous Improvement Conference
Clarity Makes a Comeback at JCPenney
Article by BIll Bonnell on Dec 20, 2013
Without much fanfare, the simple JCPenney logo designed in the 70’s has made a welcome comeback. The brainchild of Jay Doblin of Unimark International, the logo originally existed in several different weights of Helvetica—bold, medium, regular, and light. Different weights were associated with different products: bold for products seen as masculine, such as hardware, and light for items such as ladies apparel.
Earlier in 2013, when CEO Ron Johnson was unceremoniously run out of the company, his flag-like JCP in a red and blue square (a square deal) was also quickly banished. It seemed for a while that the logo Johnson retired (the jcpenney all in lower case with the jcp letters in a box) would reappear, but that hasn’t happened.
The original Unimark logo was based on solid thinking. The team changed the name and logo from “Penneys,” which implied cheapness (pennies), and instead brought back the legacy of the founder, James Cash Penney, an American genius of early twentieth century retailing. The new Unimark logo replaced what was known in the company as the “Chinese” logo because of the style of lettering.
Using a simple, straight-forward typeface like Helvetica was a big step forward in the 70’s and today it’s right back in fashion. True, Unimark did do a lot of Helvetica logos in the 60’s and 70’s including Target, American Airlines and dozens of others. Alan Siegel created the iconic 3M logo using Helvetica. Yet, the companies that kept those logos still look contemporary. (Does anyone really think the new American Airlines logo is an advance on the mark created by Massimo?)
Doblin understood the power of branding, so he was thinking about much more than graphics when he worked on the JCPenney logo. He wanted to change the actual “identity” of the company and the logo signified changes that were fundamental to the core of what the company would stand for. He inaugurated an era where all of the products sold in the store were branded as JCPenney products. This included clothing, hardware, paints, home furnishings and even appliances. The JCPenney small appliances of his era were Braun-like in their simplicity and some were accepted into the MOMA design collection.
As the company once again struggles to find its identity, the simple, clear Helvetica JCPenney mark provides a link to a better past and and underscores their goal of once again providing honest value to their customers.
Clarity Before Charity
Article by Hayley Berlent on Dec 17, 2013
Hayley Berlent, Chief Strategy Officer at Siegelvision, shares four communication principles for every nonprofit to follow in her Charity Navigator article, “Clarity Before Charity.”