Is your business too complicated?

Updated to Business on June 28, 2023.

My business coach squinted as he pointed at the long, winding snake of connected boxes I’d drawn on the whiteboard. 

“And why,” he asked as he pointed at my convoluted diagram of colored boxes, circles, and interconnected lines, “do you need to build that sequence with all that automation coding and this string of emails?” 

“Well,” I started, sensing a trap, “This way when anyone views our new product online we automatically follow up!.”

“Okaaaaay.” he replied, with a pained expression like he’d just spotted something rotting on my desk. “But, if you didn’t have that product, you don’t need any of this…Right?”


Complication Station

Like a train that leaves the station heading down a single track, every entrepreneur opens their doors excited about bringing one product to market. It’s how Peleton, Apple, Patagonia, Slack, PayPal, and Stripe all started.

Then somewhere down the track you run into overly complicated social media schemes, energy-sucking product launches, technology nightmares, and to-do lists that get longer instead of shorter.

Your train has entered Complication Station.

“When you’re on top of everything, it’s hard to get to the bottom of anything.” – Linda Stone

Now instead of driving your business forward toward growth and more innovation, you are sidelined by the non-revenue busyness of running a business.  Like a trick mirror at a circus, you think you’re moving forward when you’ve actually slowed down to a crawl. “When you’re on top of everything,” writes ex-Apple executive Linda Stone, “it’s hard to get to the bottom of anything.”

You need to get back on track.

Getting derailed

I cut my teeth in the training and development business with keynote presentations. Give a speech, get paid, and then do it again. It was simple, profitable, and fun.

Soon I was asked to provide workshops for clients. That led to interviewing staff, research, and customization. Lots of customization. The market was good and I expanded my business with contractors to do client delivery. Now I could take on bigger projects, so I got an office and added staff and more contractors. 

Fast forward five years and I was firmly parked in Complication Station. My simple, profitable, and fun business had morphed into complicated, less-profitable, and not-so-much fun. 

I needed to get back on track by returning to the problem.

Back on track

There is a myth that the most successful entrepreneurs work incredible hours, take massive risks, and bleed for every client. That’s BS.

The reality is your business can be simple; you have one goal: to solve a problem. You might build buildings, manage clients’ money, or bake bread. In the end, the client rewards you if you solved their problem.

Taking a page from Steve Jobs’s playbook I, stripped my product line down to a single topic: time management. I wrote a book on it, built new products, and returned to basics: solving problems for my clients. 

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It’s counterintuitive, but by doing less I had become more valuable. “Perfection is achieved,” wrote The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Recently I worked with one coaching client to do the same with his training business and another with his IT solutions. In both cases, their choices had become hidden under a growing morass of complications accumulated over many clients and years.

There are always two tracks.

Two tracks

Two tracks leave the station, one eventually gets bogged down at Complication Station. The other stays pointed towards your vision, gathers speed (instead of complexity), and becomes the admired enterprise people want to work for or (lucky you) want to acquire.

And here’s the thing. 

Like water slowly dripping into a dry sponge, complexity gradually creeps into a business until it is an invisible weight that seems normal – even necessary.

Avoiding Complication Station is not a one-time decision or strategic pivot; every day, every team meeting – even every email – you need to make a choice. Either allow complexity to distract you from your purpose, or choose the simplest route to solving your client’s problem. 

Simple usually wins.