What is Being Simple?

John Maeda broke down being simple into 10 integrated areas, all relying on one another to create the perfect recipe for simplicity.

Albert Einstein had many remarkable qualities that we don’t typically associate with him. For example, he was a champion of civil rights and actually belonged to NAACP. Einstein actually received an honorary degree from Lincoln University, a historically black school in Oxford, Pennsylvania, and considered racism the worst of all diseases. The university has many distinguished alumni, starting with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, music legend Cab Calloway, and Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. Einstein was a founding member of the German Democratic Party in 1918, and the FBI had a file on him amassing some 1,400 pages. There were layers upon layers to his complicated life.

We widely regard Einstein as a deep thinker, a problem solver. So it comes as no surprise that while at Princeton University, he wrote 30,000 unique documents, 300 scientific papers, and 150 non-scientific ones. In one of his many articles, he broke down the level of intelligence into five ascending categories. The fifth was smart, the fourth, intelligent, the third was brilliant, the second was genius and the first…SIMPLE. Yes, plain, old simple. We all hear the phrase, “We must keep things simple” to maximize our talent. And for many new coaches, the “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method is the first teaching tool learned.  

But what is simple? Being simple is good, but is being simple-minded bad? How did Einstein or anyone else define what being simple actually means? 

John Maeda, an American executive, designer and technologist, wrote a 100-page book called “The Laws of Simplicity” while earning his MBA degree from MIT. Maeda broke down being simple into 10 integrated areas, all relying on one another to create the perfect recipe for simplicity. Here is his list:

  • LAW 1: REDUCE — The easiest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. We need to understand what not to focus on. 

  • LAW 2: ORGANIZE — Organization makes a system of many appear few. When organized we perform more effectively through constant repetitions.   

  • LAW 3: TIME — Savings in time feel like simplicity. We all can shave time off our wasted moments in our day, on the meaningless. 

  • LAW 4: LEARN — Knowledge makes everything simpler. The more we know, the simpler it becomes.

  • LAW 5: DIFFERENCES — Simplicity and complexity need one another. We need to break down both to understand what can be reduced. 

  • LAW 6: CONTEXT — What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral — finding the non-obvious.      

  • LAW 7: EMOTION — More emotions are better than fewer. 

  • LAW 8: TRUST — In simplicity we trust — trust you have enough. 

  • LAW 9: FAILURE — Some things can never be made simple. Hard problems cannot always be reduced. 

  • LAW 10: THE ONE — Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful. 

Einstein never intended for being simple to mean you did not know anything or were lacking in talent. His idea of simple was rooted in knowing everything, and perhaps most importantly knowing what to subtract. 

Remember, it’s through elimination that we discover. And discovery leads us to the right answers. 


P.S. If you are in search of a book recommendation, our team at The Daily Coach highly recommends Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson’s biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.


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