In the late 1990s, Royal Philips Electronics was a slow-footed behemoth whose products, from medical diagnostic imaging systems to electric shavers, were losing traction in the marketplace. By 2002, a new CEO, Gerard Kleisterlee, determined that the company urgently needed to address the dynamic global marketplace and become more responsive to consumers' changing needs.Philips deployed researchers in seven countries, asking nearly 2,000 consumers to identify the biggest societal issue that the company should address. The response was loud and urgent. "Almost immediately, we hit on the notion of complexity and its relationship to human beings," says Andrea Ragnetti, Philips's chief marketing officer. Consumers told the researchers that they felt overwhelmed by the complexity of technology. Some 30% of home-networking products were returned because people couldn't get them to work. Nearly 48% of people had put off buying a digital camera because they thought it would be too complicated.
Strategists recognized a huge opportunity: to be the company that delivered on the promise of sophisticated technology without the hassles. Philips, they said, should position itself as a simple company. Ragnetti was dumbstruck. "I said, 'You must be joking. This is an organization built on complexity, sophistication, brainpower.' " But he and Kleisterlee responded with an even more audacious plan. Rather than merely retooling products, Philips would also transform itself into a simpler, more market-driven organization.
That initiative has been felt from the highest rungs of the organization to the lowest. Instead of 500 different businesses, Philips is now in 70; instead of 30 divisions, there are 5. Even things as prosaic as business meetings have been nudged in the direction of simplicity: The company now forbids more than 10 slides in any PowerPoint presentation. Just enough, they decided, was more.
The campaign, christened "Sense and Simplicity," required that everything Philips did going forward be technologically advanced--but it also had to be designed with the end user in mind and be easy to experience. That ideal has influenced product development from conception--each new product, like the ShoqBox, an MP3 mini-boom box, must be based on a user need that's tested and validated--to packaging. Philips invited 15 customers to its Consumer Experience Research Centre in Bruges, Belgium, to see how they unpacked and set up a Flat TV. After watching people struggle to lift the heavy set from an upright box, designers altered the packaging so the TV could be removed from a carton lying flat on the ground.
Early results of the business reorganization, particularly in North America, have been dramatic. Sales growth for the first half of 2005 was up 35%, and the company was named Supplier of the Year by Best Buy and Sam's Club. Philips's Ambilight Flat TV and GoGear Digital Camcorder won European iF awards for integrating advanced technologies into a consumer-friendly design, and the Consumer Electronics Association handed the company 12 Innovation Awards for products ranging from a remote control to a wearable sport audio player.
Maeda, who, as a member of Philips's Simplicity Advisory Board has had a front-row seat for this transformation, is impressed. "The best indication of their sincerity is that they're embracing the concept at a management level," says Maeda. "It isn't just marketing to them. That's quite a radical thing."
(The Beauty of Simplicity - Fast Company)
In late August Jordon Cooper ran a post talking about this article that spoke of the value of simplicity in technology. People like their technology to be simple to use. You can see that in the Ipod, with it's single dial, or Google with it's simple interface. Both examples of companies that have struck a simple cord with people.
But, one of the complexities of this need is that people also feel something has less value if it is simple to use. Dan Ariely, a business-school professor from MIT says;
"If I offer you a VCR with only one button, it's not all that exciting, even if when you use it, it's likely to be easier."
It's less exciting and may be perceived as less valuable if it's less complex.
The call to simplicity in technology is driven by a desire in society for greater simplicity, even if sometimes we fear that the simple things are less valuable. That's quite a conundrum. We want simple, yet we fear it will make us seem poor, insignificant or second class.
This is reflected in how we behave as churches too.
We want our lives to be simplified, but we still like the band leading us in new choruses each week. We want the basics, but we still want the speaker to tell great stories and show us great pictures every Sunday. We want to pare down, but our church still needs the gym and kitchen and good seats and a great sound and video delivery system.
We want simple, but having simple may mean we are less than, and we don't want to be considered less than.
So the question rattling around in my head these weeks is, what does Simple Church look like?
What would it look like if we reviewed who we are and what we do and what we own and how our structures and activities worked, and simplified them?
And would North American's even attend a Simple Church?
The question is not rhetorical.