Edward de Bono famously stated: “Simplicity before understanding is simplistic; simplicity after understanding is simple”. Which best describes your approach to business strategy development?

That might sound a bit harsh, however, in our experience some organisations jump to a strategy conclusion without undertaking detailed internal and external analysis, and without posing challenging questions for themselves.

Some don’t spend enough time to understand the aims, context and value drivers, many of which may have developed and evolved since the strategy was previously reviewed.

And some might just not have the luxury of time to see the wood from the trees; understandable in competitive, fast changing situations and market conditions.

‘Simplicity’, first published in 1998, is an excellent read, and here are de Bono’s 10 rules of simplicity, with an additional business strategy lens:

  • Place a very high value on simplicity. Constantly strive for simplicity. Don’t wait for things to become very complicated. Track performance, strategy delivery and market dynamics constantly to understand where and how complexity is building.
  • Be determined to seek simplicity. Simplicity flows from a desire to achieve it. It needs to be active, fully integrated and not an add on. At the executive level, collectively agree that simplicity is important.
  • Understand your complexity very well. Lack of understanding leads to simplistic, not simple. Understand where and how value is created and eroded through customer and operational delivery.
  • Design alternatives and possibilities. The first idea is unlikely to be the best. Think creatively and laterally. Test, assess and reiterate. Be open to a range of solutions to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Challenge and discard existing elements. If something can’t be justified, bin it. Be wary of becoming good at adjusting to a current system. Robustly critique current and developing components for the organisation for relevance and value creation.
  • Be prepared to start over again. Sometimes a blank page and zero base is better than modification. Have clear design criteria. This may not be at a business model level, but relevant for some key strategic initiatives.
  • Develop and use concepts. Humans use concepts to simplify. Without concepts, detail naturally prevails. Communicate and engage effectively internally and externally to share the strategy, its aims and link to colleagues and functions.
  • Break things down into smaller units. Become comfortable simplifying sub-systems as part of an overall complex system. Appraise the organisation and its strategy from multiple perspectives.
  • Be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity. For example, Accuracy vs. Simplicity, as the understanding the main drivers will be sufficient. For effective trade-offs, clarity is needed on potential impact and priorities.
  • Know for whose sake simplicity is being designed. Who is impacted by simplicity, and why? Clarity of stakeholders needs, perspectives and power are all key ingredients to developing understanding.

Achieving all 10 of these on a regular basis may be a challenge for most organisations, but adopting the underlying principles is much easier. Steve Jobs, clearly embraced this approach and philosophy at Apple and was quoted as saying:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.”

Leading and managing modern organisations is a complex task in a highly dynamic and potentially uncertain environment. Designing and implementing strategies can also be a complex and challenging process.

As a result, we understand that the ability to analyse, assess and action with simplicity, clarity and perception is a key skill in strategy development and planning, which helps organisations make better decisions and aids strategy implementation and successful outcomes.

Strategy is a well debated topic and we are keen to hear your views on these points, as well as any stories from your own experiences in putting strategy into practice. Please post your thoughts and tag ‘Whitecap Consulting’ (LinkedIn) or @Whitecapconsult (Twitter), or send me a note at [email protected] to share your thoughts.



Hopefully you’ve found this article useful. If you feel that your strategy development and strategy implementation process would benefit from independent review and challenge, please get in touch.

Established in 2012, Whitecap Consulting is a regional strategy consultancy headquartered in Leeds, with offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle. We typically work with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. Also, we work with clients across a range of sectors including Financial Services, Technology, FinTech, Outsourcing, Consumer and Retail, Property, Healthcare, Higher Education, Manufacturing and Professional Services, including Corporate Finance and PE.