Volumes have now been written about Steve Jobs and his monumental achievements and contributions to the business and consumer world. Paradoxically, though, it’s what he “left out” that helped shape so much of his success before he died October 5th.

Jobs had an uncanny ability to define the essential elements of anything-and ruthlessly cut everything else out. The result would be a long string of artistic masterpieces: the Apple logo, the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. Compare it to the typical hardware product like a Windows-based PC, usually loaded with features we don’t need. Simplicity and elegance vs complexity and baggage.

“That was the essence of Jobs’ unique genius — understanding that absence defines presence; that the only path to the great new things of the future was the merciless elimination of the good old things of the past,” Jeff Yang writes in a nice piece  in the Wall Street Journal.

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Jobs turned simplicity into a new art form for the business world. He showed that simplifying is both art and science, one that requires a Zen-like mindset and thinking.

Brilliant thinkers (Einstein), artists (Leonardo da Vinci), leaders and orators (FDR, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King) do this naturally. But most of us get bogged down before we even get out of the chute. Why? We know too much (the “curse of knowledge”) and/or we want to do too much, and please everyone.

When I was writing executive speeches, I was constantly fending off product marketing managers with their pitches. The presentation was like a cargo train, with everyone piling on their baggage. Eventually it bogged down. Compare that to a typical Steve Jobs presentation with the crisp messaging, and simple, powerful imagery. Every word, graphic and demonstration had a reason.

To achieve simplicity, try stepping back to a sort of mental balcony and reviewing your presentation–or any challenge-anew. Take off your binders and preconceptions and see things through a fresh, unfiltered lense. Only then can you see the problem objectively. Then focus on a single message. You won’t please everyone anyhow, so why try?

This applies to social media activities as well.

We’re constantly under pressure to boil the ocean in corporate America. Big complex programs can be waived around in front of senior management like trophies. When I was at Hewlett Packard, my manager wanted my group to drive social media for the entire Enterprise organization, representing several big business organizations and tens of thousands of employees. She had no idea how it would happen, but she knew it would look good before management.

My solution was to start small: two carefully focused pilot programs in different organizations with teams of motivated people. From these and over two months I developed a set of best practices and processes that I would use across the entire organization. I probably saved months of work and painful trial and error (and my own sanity).

Blogs and stories should be simple too. We’re not writing long-winded essays, but short communications bursts. Develop a central theme or argument, build your case in 3 or 4 points (add supporting stories and data as needed) and drive to a clear conclusion.

It all starts in the mind, and that’s where we struggle the most. If you can’t tune out the noise and focus on the problem at hand, you’ll never get too far-professionally or personally.

Psychologist and author Wayne Dyer put it this way: ‎”It has been said that it’s the space between the bars that holds the tiger. And it’s the silence between the notes that makes the music. It is out of the silence, or “the gap,” or that space between our thoughts, that everything is created…”

Embrace the silence. Keep it simple. Then go out and do something wonderful.

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About Mark Ivey

Mark Ivey

Mark Ivey is a social media consultant with the ION Group and a published author with a broad corporate background in editorial, marketing, social media and executive communications. He’s served as a Bureau Chief at BusinessWeek magazine, national media spokesman for Intel, and recently, as Editor in Chief for Hewlett Packard, where he pioneered a new program to drive its enterprise blogs and other social media activities. Besides family, friends and good wine, his passion is social media-training, strategizing, and exploring new digital paths for his clients. Find him on Twitter at @markivey.

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  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    HEy Mark,

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Srinivas-thanks for the comments,and good reminder about Presentation Zen…We need to completely rethink how we do our presentations, and yes, “starting small” is a good approach…Good luck in your own journey.

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    HEy Mark, 

    Thanks for sharing this. First I want to comment on presentations. I’m guessing that based on what you said you’ve read presentation Zen. Ever since reading that book my style of how I present changed dramatically. I can’t look at a powerpoint presentation and not think “stop with the bullet points already.” I literally have ripped my own slide decks apart and narrowed them down to having one sentence and a visual to go with each slide.  I think when you’re a speaker this really makes a huge impact on the audience because they interact with you as opposed to the slides. 

    In terms of products/blogging this is something I recognize the need for in my own work. As somebody with ADHD I move a million miles an hour and constantly have new ideas of things I want to experiment with and try. But simplifying is actually what I’m finding to be very effective.  WE’re in the process of redesigning the web site for our podcast and I had all these things I wanted to do with it but my business partner got me to realize that that we need to focus on the core and not get caught up in too many things. I think it’s a bit of a double edged sword with social media. We have all this great information at our disposal but at the same time we get paralyzed by it because we’re so distracted by it. 

    I think starting small is also much easier. Part of why we struggle so much with certain goals is we bite off more than we can chew or we don’t start in the first place because big goals seem so daunting. I’ve found that when you take he first step what happens is the view changes and opportunities/perspectives that weren’t there before. Going on step a time makes it possible for us to be focused and simple in our approach. I’ve really enjoyed the content you’ve shared here. 

    Cheers,
    Srinivas

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Srinivas-thanks for the comments,and good reminder about Presentation Zen…We need to completely rethink how we do our presentations, and yes, “starting small” is a good approach…Good luck in your own journey.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great post, Mark. This really resonates with me. It’s so easy to get bogged down with competing demands and deadlines, constant noise and the futile desire to do it all well, rather than focusing on one or two things at a time. I especially like this part of the Wayne Dyer quote: “It is out of the silence, or

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Thanks, and I love that quote too, really puts it in perspective.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great post, Mark. This really resonates with me. It’s so easy to get bogged down with competing demands and deadlines, constant noise and the futile desire to do it all well, rather than focusing on one or two things at a time. I especially like this part of the Wayne Dyer quote: “It is out of the silence, or “the gap,” or that space between our thoughts, that everything is created…” 

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Thanks, and I love that quote too, really puts it in perspective. 

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  • Gary Johnson

    Mark I really enjoyed reading your post. It got me thinking about how much I over complicate things like client projects, personal projects, and even homework assignments. Which leads to procrastination and a lot of unfinished personal projects.

    I really like this part of the post “It all starts in the mind, and that

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Gary- thanks, appreciate your comments…

  • Gary Johnson

    Mark I really enjoyed reading your post. It got me thinking about how much I over complicate things like client projects, personal projects, and even homework assignments. Which leads to procrastination and a lot of unfinished personal projects.

    I really like this part of the post “It all starts in the mind, and that’s where we struggle the most. If you
    can’t tune out the noise and focus on the problem at hand, you’ll never
    get too far-professionally or personally”.  The other day I was working on writing a few blog posts for my new blog/website “Local Marketing Agents” and I would get a few sentences down then delete and start over. The whole time I kept thinking: “Will this offend anyone, or did I pick the right keywords, etc…

    Again, great post and a great tribute to the late Steve Jobs may he rest in peace!

    Have a Great Day
    Gary Johnson

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Gary- thanks, appreciate your comments…

  • http://blog.adminitrack.com/ Adminitrack

    Steve Jobs had a dedicated meditation practice – I am sure when we can clear out our minds, this is the “space” he speaks of.

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      thanks!

  • http://blog.adminitrack.com/ Adminitrack

    Steve Jobs had a dedicated meditation practice – I am sure when we can clear out our minds, this is the “space” he speaks of.  Great post Mark.  

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      thanks! 

  • http://www.hotspotpromotion.com Darlene Hull

    Oh, thank you.

  • http://www.hotspotpromotion.com Darlene Hull

    Oh, thank you.  Instead of pushing for more, let’s go for less.  Instead of pushing for louder, let’s go a little quieter.  Such a relief to hear someone speak like this in the marketing world.   I get really tired of hitting my “delete” key because so many people don’t get this.