Southwest Airlines is by far the most successful commercial airline in US history.  But Southwest’s beginnings can be traced back to this simple napkin drawing:


Legend has it that in 1967, after shuttering Wild Goose Airlines, Rollin King turned to his attorney, Herb Kelleher at a San Antonio bar and said “I have an idea for another airline; one that connects just the main metro areas of Texas.” King articulated his idea by drawing three dots on a napkin to represent Texas’s largest cities – Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. King then connected the dots with three lines to form a simple triangle.  This was a revolutionary idea for the time, compared with the ‘hub and spoke’ model which still dominates the commercial airline industry.  As Southwest grew to become the largest domestic airline in the US, it has adhered consistently to this simplistic napkin drawing of its strategy – point-to-point frequent departures.


But why do leaders rarely apply such simplicity to their own business?


Why leaders overcomplicate things

  • Lack of time – the popular saying “I would have written you a shorter letter if I had more time” captures well one of the underlying reasons leaders don’t simplify. Being unwilling or unable to spend the time necessary to simplify their ideas.
  • Belief that simple is inferior – part of the definition of simple according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “lacking in knowledge or expertise”. This belief unhelpfully reinforces the idea that complexity is good and simplicity is bad.
  • Not confident in their underlying ideas – complexity hides thinking that is not coherent and aligned.
  • Confuse clarity & certainty – one doesn’t need to be certain about a topic to be clear as certainty about the future is an unrealistic standard. Aim for a concise and simple articulation of what can be known.
  • Shun accountability – for themselves and others. Expectations that are described in a complex manner are difficult to understand and hold people accountable against.


Why leaders should simplify everything in their business

  • The human mind is drawn toward simplicity and shuns complexity.
  • Simple is understandable – complexity confuses.
  • Simple is memorable – complex is forgettable.
  • Mastery is demonstrated by being able to simplify.
  • Those confident in their positions simplify their ideas into bite size pieces; those not confident in their positions often try to mask their lack of confidence through complex articulation.

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs


How Navigate the Journey can help simplify your business

  • Specialize in Entrepreneurial Companies: We only use proven tools & approaches that work for entrepreneurial companies that don’t have the luxury of complex and resource-consuming tools to run the business compared with larger organizations.
  • Simple Tools: Simple as in the opposite of complex. Simple as in the least amount of time and effort needed to get the outcomes you want.  Simple as in everyone in your organization can understand and apply the tools.
  • Simplified Vision: most organizations either have never clarified their vision, or the articulation of the their Vision is in a 60 slide PowerPoint deck that no one can remember or understand. We help teams clarify their vision, strategy & plan to fit on one page. 
  • Simplified People Management: Managing people is hard enough when you ignore it or over complicate.  Instead, use a few simple, but highly effective tools such as the Talent Assessment and quarterly coaching to continually develop your people.  
  • Simple Replicability: The tools we introducse are first implemented with the company’s leadership team but are intended and designed to be rolled out and implemented company-wide.



So What?

  • Have you unintentionally over-complicated your company so as to not get what you want from your business?


Next Steps

  • Visit and schedule a call with Tom Barrett to discuss how he helps entrepreneurs get what they want from their business.  


About The Author

Tom Barrett is a Nashville-based leadership team coach who utilizes proven processes such as Scaling Up and the ValueBuilder System to help entrepreneurs get what they want from their business.  


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