04/29/21: Simplify vs Optimize: Which should you do right now?

Sent 4/29/2021

We had Ironman World Champion Tim O'Donnell on Fueling the Pursuit. Such a fun conversation and I love his approach to training. 

This week's Think Better Newsletter looks at simplifying versus optimizing.

The Idea

I write in my book about maximizing versus minimizing (in the 80/20 Rule Spotlight), and when to do each. I recently heard a slightly different framework that I thought was quite powerful: simplifying versus optimizing.

Simplifying is making it as easy as possible to take the next step. If you want someone to change their behavior, make it as simple as possible. Don't ask them to do two things, ask them to do one important one.

When you simplify, you may decrease your efficiency, but you focus on the most effective behavior and simply do that.

- Just show up to practice and do the work.
- Rule #1: The customer is always right.
- Get the vaccine and you can get back to life as normal.

These may not maximize your training, profits, or covid spread, but they orient you to your number one priority in a clear, simple message.

Optimizing is trying to get the best possible result. It's trying to get 100% instead of 99%. It's looking at all the dials available to turn, and getting them into the best possible position.

- Do the work, and make sure the other aspects of your life are in order, too.
- Make sure you hit every checkbox before you let the customer go.
- Keep wearing the mask after you get vaccinated...just in case.

One is not better than the other. They are two different approaches to solving two different problems.

Simplifying is great when you need to make a big change or a focused effort, when effectiveness is paramount. If you want to get started, simplify.

Optimizing is great when you need to get the most out of what you are doing, when efficiency truly matters. If you want to be a champion, optimize.

The System

You have to have a strategy for deciding whether you need to simplify or optimize. One simple system is to ask this question: how much change do I need to make?

If you need to make a big change, then you will want to simplify. Isolate the most important variable (only one, if possible) and make a plan to improve only that. Let everything else go. If it's less important, it's just getting in the way.

If your process or strategy is solid, then you want to optimize. You're not looking to make a big change so much as a bunch of small, targeted tweaks. Optimizing is essentially finding and implementing targeted tweaks: dialing it in.

My general rule: Simplify first, then optimize. Otherwise you risk optimizing the wrong things.

The Question

Do you feel like you're doing too much, or not doing enough?


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak." - Hans Hofmann


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