Minimalism isn’t just about the way your home is laid out or your personal life. It applies equally to your business. However, many business people I’ve met and discussed this with have never given it a thought. Applying minimalism to business is a very effective approach to causing clarity, simplicity and automation.
I’ve been looking at operational minimalism in our business over the years and while we aren’t perfect (minimalists never feel like they are minimal enough) we do have quite a good model. I’m super confident we are a lot leaner than all our main competitors. I think this is partly because it’s our capital in this business. When businesses have other peoples’ money to play around with they tend not to see that there is a love affair between capital constraint and minimalism. Minimalism in business drives lower costs, reduces risk and increases your ability to automate. Lazy capital on the other hand breeds complexity. Complexity then makes it hard to automate.
Classic minimalist traits in business…
Electronic forms and docs
I still see lots of businesses using cheques, paper remittances, paper letters and forms. It is easier and cheaper to build and maintain a webform than it is to design, print and reprint paper ones.
Many digital devices
I have quite a few crazy friends who have a personal and a work mobile. If you’re employer isn’t flexible on phone usage then you should insist they fund your work calls on your personal phone. Ask them to explain why their policy loves to waste resources, capital and create digital waste through overconsumption of devices. Be an internal activist on this. Encourage BYOD policy and culture in your organisation.
Fewer social networks
Cherry pick which network(s) you will hang out in. Personally I’m Twitter because of it’s 160 characters, I can follow who I like to read but equally I don’t have to stand in front of the firehose of conversation that is Facebook. I do use Facebook and LinkedIn but sparingly. Google+ is on my Radar because it has attracted more professionals. For the moment though Twitter is my choice.
I’ve spent some time encouraging staff in Saasu to keep emails short. I prefer to write emails with only a sentence or two. A conversation can be had otheriwse in person or on skype. Tweets are great because they force one sentance through the 160 character limit. SMS is great because it forces short phone calls. All these rules force me into the habit of being succinct, they save you time and respects your readers time. I don’t count the letters by the way breaking the rule occasionally is ok.
Single small light laptop
Many people have more than one computer. Desktops at home, work and maybe a laptop. A single small laptop and if you must a large format screen for digital paper shufflers amongst us. Start a BYOD culture which has the dual effect of allowing staff the freedom to choose their preferred device, pay them slightly more and effectively get what was once a capital intensive need off your plate. Some simple policies and procedures can address security and control issues.
Stop snail mailing invoices and statements. Enough said. This might not sit well if you the kind of person who lets customers drive your business model instead of the other way around. Personally I believe in an efficient system for the broad benefit of the business and thus a low cost of sale. So I tend not to encourage specific behaviours for specific customers that blow costs out at the expense of cost of sales that then lead to higher prices to cover these specific activities.
Simplified pricing models
Quite often business finness pricing to the nenth degree across lots of facets and services. This optimisation of charges causes product offering complexity that can confuse customers, adds billing complexity and increases billing error rates and queries. We are still going through simplifcation ourselves in Saasu but we have never looked back from each simplification step we have taken.
Very few spreadsheets
Attempt to de-spreadsheet your business. I personally have only one main spreadsheet in use. I share others but my needs are quite simple. One thing I stopped doing is trying to collate lots of KPI and other data into a single spreadsheet. Web apps these days tend to have good report sets, so for example I can easily see service, social, financial and development KPI’s from the various reports from the systems we use that are built in. Where there are gaps build a report or use a spreadsheet but your systems should do the heavy lifting for you.
So many people I’ve met use Dropbox, their own servers, their personal laptop and desktops drives at work, usb sticks and maybe a document manager, google drive, iCloud or their smart phone hard drive to store their data. What are you insane?! Leaving the security risk aside, lose some of those digital cupboards. Get down to three core storage systems and don’t tell people what you use for obvious security reasons.
It’s a process and not a policy. Be clear on what is electronic and accepted by authorities. A photo of a Tax Invoice doesn’t pass as an electronic record necessarily. Create economic time or money incentives for staff to adopt paperless. Remove the fear for people stuck in their old ways. You can mandate it but then you have an inauthentic adoption of the process so it won’t work well. Replace physical reminders with digital ones. Paper is still strong because email is often not trusted so people revert back to paper. Ensure users can trust your email or do things like training users and customers to communicate through networks and portals instead of email.
Unstructured use of meetings can be time suck from your organisation. Just don’t allow them. If you have a good processes in place for a business minimise the meetings down to be just planned meetings, have environments where new issues are raised but don’t allow the grenade meeting just thrown into the mix at all the particpants expense to serve often just an individuals needs and agenda.
Have a photo of you love ones maybe but do you really need all those pens, staplers, magazines, brochures, files and the like creating a little bower nest. Have workstations in your office for printing and other stationary intensive tasks.
Minimalism isn’t about nothingness. Minimalist designs and people have quite varied forms of art, photos and other content on walls in their offices. They see walls as pallets reflecting company mood, ideals and goals.
Integrity and openness
Minimalist people often don’t want the clutter of lies, politics, secrets and games. They often run more open environments and open businesses by the nature of their desire to create clarity and purpose. They see environmental and operational minimalism as being about truth, openness and self expression. Real aspects of business liberation.
Many of us are owned by our stuff and our habits. Minimalism creates a freedom as it moves you away from being too physically connected to a system or space.
I could go on all day about this but I’ll stop here. If there’s enough interest I’ll do a follow up blog that goes into more specifics in our own business and what I see in my friend’s businesses that work well for them.
Photo Credit: Altasian and their new minimalist San Francisco office.