…making brands simple, relevant, and compelling.


December 1st, 2012

Simplifiers: Mark Olson (aka Mojo) at TEDx Fargo – YouTube

There are two kinds of people in the world – simplifiers and complicators.

Most of us are complicators. We may not see ourselves as complicators; we don’t mean to be complicators. But we are.

Simplifiers are a rare breed. They rarely make it to maturity.

We all enter the world in simple mode. Eat, sleep, poop.

If we live long enough, we may even revisit simple mood before we exit.

In between our entrance and exit, things get complicated.

When we are infants someone takes care of our every need. Life’s simple.

Soon expectations are raised when we start to coo, wiggle, and smile.

Sometimes its just gas.

Eventually we begin to respond to the big fleshy faces hovering above us.

“Goo-goo gaga…” We react. We mimic. We smile and laugh.

We’re growing, but still in simple mode. Eat, sleep, poop. Life is still simple.

It’s not long and we’re forming sounds that are interpreted by loving parents as words. “Mama” or “Dada”.

We eventually start scooting and crawling around. Until one day, we pull ourselves up to a standing position… and do the Bobble-head boogie with the sofa.

Wow! From worm’s-eye view to bird’s-eye view in one less-than-fluid motion.

Never again will 18 inches of increased elevation be so profound.

Then it happens. We take our first step.

One small step… one giant leap… into the future.

From that moment on, things get progressively more complicated, for the rest of our lives.

Before we start our formal education, we learn to walk and talk. We learn to identify colors, shapes, numbers, letters, words, and pictures.

We are perfectly natural little wild creative beasts at this point.

For many of us, we will never be this outwardly creative again.

We draw and paint, sing and dance – freely express our wild little selves – all completely untethered and unfiltered.

But, by the time we start kindergarten, the deck is completely stacked in favor of complexity.

Education is a wonderful – and necessary – thing, but it hardwires us for complexity.

It buries the simple gene we are all born with.

It has something (maybe everything) to do with our brains – how we’re wired.

Our brains have two hemispheres – the left and right hemispheres.

Our left hemisphere is the seat of reason – logic, rational thought.

Our right hemisphere is home to our emotions and feelings.

Our left hemisphere is where math and science rule supreme.

Our right hemisphere is where words and imagery prevail.

Symmetry in nature is rarely perfect.

People typically have one brain hemisphere that dominates.

We are said to be left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant – “left-brained” and “right-brained”.

Engineers, architects, and scientists are typically “left-brained”, or “left-brainers”.

Artists, writers, and designers are typically “right-brained”, or “right-brainers”.

People who go into the education profession are typically left-brainers.

Educational instruction is a linear process.

One makes progress through a series of standard lessons and tests.

It’s all very logical, very linear, very left-brained.

By the time we graduate from kindergarten, most of us are coloring inside the lines.

By the time we graduate from high school, we have mastered the linear process of learning.

College hard codes our left-brained development even further.

So much so, that many “professional students” become university professors.

It’s just so much fun pealing back layer upon layer of complexity to reveal… more layers of complexity.

Left-brained activity is valued and reinforced with recognition and rewards.

Complexity is king in the world of the left-brained.

Being able to understand and navigate complexity is highly valued.

This type of knowledge is good.

But, it’s one form of knowledge, among many.

What about those of us who are right-brain dominant.

Those who see things differently?

Artists and writers see the world through very different eyes.

Light and shadow, color and shape, texture, pattern and rhythm are vivid elements to us.

Even space and time are elements to be manipulated in non-linear fashion.

Metaphor and storytelling and are how right brainers make sense of the world.

Simplicity lies at the heart of any good story.

Simplicity is engaged in an ongoing struggle with complexity everyday – everywhere.

Complexity almost always wins.

Simplicity versus complexity.

Right-brain versus left-brain.

How is this meaningful or relevant for us today?

If you run a business, manage a brand, or work in an organization that wants to succeed – not just survive – understanding the dynamics involved in both of these ongoing struggles is important – maybe even critical.

Nobody ever went to a meeting and consciously voted for complexity.

Nobody ever said, “We’re not finished here. It’s not complicated enough.”

But… we’ve all been in meetings where complexity was the outcome and net affect of decisions made and activity prescribed.

Why does this happen again and again and again?

Simplicity is universally appealing, but seldom achieved.


Because groups of people inevitably, and unknowingly, compromise, in favor of complexity.

Every compromise invites complexity.

Compromise is the handmaiden of complexity.

If you run a business, you are managing a brand.

Whether you consciously think about in that way, or not.

What does your brand represent?

What is a brand?

A brand is a gut feeling you have about someone, something, or someplace.

In business, a brand is the gut feeling people have about you, your product, service, company or organization.

A gut feeling.

Not a rational thought.

Right-brained people – right brainers – are good at gut feelings.

They know how to create stories that produce gut feelings.

It’s not marketing and advertising that tells your story.

It’s everything a customer experiences.

From introduction of your product, probably via your website, to product demo, to where and how its purchased, to service and support, to the way you answer the phone – everything.

Everything a customer experiences.

If your brand is “everything” that produces a gut feeling, how and where do you begin to manage such complexity?

Simplicity… applied. Applied simplicity. Simplification.

Branding, the verb, is radical simplification to ease discovery, understanding and choice.

How do you radically simplify your brand?

By answering three very simple questions:

Who are you?

What do you do?

Why does it matter?

To answer, who you are, you need to determine who you are not.

To answer, what you do, you need to decide what you won’t do.

To answer, why it matters, you need to define your reason for being.

Who you are, and what you do, will be answered very similarly by competitors.

Your answer to why it matters is your opportunity for differentiation.

You have to communicate meaningful, relevant and compelling differentiation.

Otherwise you recede into the background noise.

Your signal, your message is indistinguishable, lost.

Your reason for being is the one thing – not five, three, or even two – the one thing that sets you and your offering apart and above all others.

It’s the signal that you modulate to rise above the background noise so that people who value your reason for being hear it and respond.

Your signal, your message, your story will resonate with those who recognize and value it.

They will have a “gut feeling” about you, your product, your service, your company or organization.

The strongest brands produce the strongest gut reaction.

The strongest brands employ simplicity to tell their story.

A simple story based on one thing. Not five, three, or even two. One thing.

The people who are most skilled at developing simple compelling stories are right-brainers.

They know the language.

They understand the most meaningful, relevant and compelling stories are authentic.

Anything less is simply marketing bullshit.

And, marketing bullshit is identified and dismissed immediately.

Your reason for being… the “one thing” that produces a desired gut reaction absolutely positively must be genuine.

Fortunately, there is a group of people who are masters of simplicity and storytelling.

They may be right-brain dominant, but understand and appreciate left-brained values.

Both of their hemispheres are engaged.

They’re called designers.

They are trained to identify problems accurately, break them down into their constituent parts, and come up with alternative solutions.

They apply design-thinking in the service of a client.

Good clients understand that the real customer is the end-user of whatever product or service is being designed.

Good designers understand that customers are best served by simplicity.

Simplicity is hard.

It’s difficult to make and keep something simple.

Complexity is easy.

It has a powerful ally in compromise.

Simplicity pays…

…long term dividends when ease of use transfers into customer loyalty.

Complexity costs…

… as customers seek better – simpler – alternatives.

Simplicity is universally appealing.

Complexity is tolerated and accepted as the norm…

…manifesting itself in the conversation ending expression, “It’s complicated.”

There are two kinds of people in the world.

Simplifiers and complicators.

Most of us are complicators.

Some of us are simplifiers.

What are you?

The choice is simple.

To succeed – to thrive – in the future, more of us will need to be simplifiers.

Simplify one thing in your life tomorrow.

It doesn’t need to be a big thing.

It can be the smallest thing imaginable.

Simplify the number of steps it takes to accomplish a mundane daily task.

Simplify your early morning wakeup ritual or bedtime routine.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the simplification.

The more you simplify, the more you’ll appreciate the basic idea and outcome.

The simpler you make things for yourself, the simpler things will probably become for others.

Try to simplify one thing everyday until you run out of things to simplify.

Imagine if everyone simplified one thing everyday for the next year.

The world would be a much simpler – and better – place.

It’s that simple.

Thoughts … On Brand

Neither deep nor finely crafted. Feel free to take exception – or not. Need help? Just ask.

Recent Comments

  • Shannon: Love!
  • mojo: Simple is as simple does.
  • Bonnie: This is better than just “thoughts”…i t is a workbook simplified! Thanks!
  • Spider: yup.
  • Michael Olsen: Met Harmon when working for National Car Rental years back. We did a “Sports Legends” golf...
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