Simple is not easy. An amazing number of people confuse the two, believing they are synonyms. They are not; in fact, we can make a case that they’re antonyms.

Easy is easy. Easy is a minimum amount of effort to produce a result. Easy is no strain, no effort, no investment, no commitment. Easy is something many, many people desire. Easy work, where pay is disproportionate to effort. Easy intimacy, where your investment in another person is minimal. Easy life, where challenge is significantly less important than victory, where growth matters less than achievement, even if the achievement isn’t particularly important.

Simple is very hard. Simple is the removal of everything except what matters. Simple is the carving away of marble until the statue of David appears. Simple is minimalism; simple is removing complexity and distilling down things to their core essence. Simple is extremely hard to do well. It may seem easy at first, because there’s always some easy stuff to remove in the beginning, but as you carve away more and more, more and more skill and mastery is required, because you don’t want to remove needed things, nor do you want to remove the wrong things.

Still unclear? Easy is getting a digital camera, whipping it out, and taking pictures with it randomly. No skill or investment is required – it’s really easy! Simple is learning how to take photographs so that the essence of what you’re trying to convey shines through with nothing else getting in the way.

Steve and Mindy Penn's Wedding 2010

By this point, you may be thinking about eschewing easy, deriding it as something only the lazy value and vowing to ban it from your vocabulary and your life. You’d be making a horrible mistake. Easy is a momentum builder. Easy gets you those early, low-risk victories that you need in order to encourage you to keep going. Easy is what gets the customer to walk in the door and make their first purchase. Easy is what gets you to buy the digital camera in the first place and helps you take that first photo. Easy gets the ball rolling.

Once you’ve got that momentum, then focusing on simplicity and simplifying takes precedence. Removing all of the preconceptions, all of the obstacles to success, removing all the unneeded and unwanted, that absolutely becomes essential. But you’ll never get to the building of skill and achievement of mastery if you don’t see some easy wins at the beginning, will you?

Capture in your mind the difference between simple and easy and know the place for each in everything that you do. It’s easy at first, and then it’s simple, right?

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