Simple is not the same as easy. Many people conflate the two, as though they were synonyms, when they’re really not. Let’s dig into why.
Easy is… well, easy. Easy is the minimum amount of effort needed to produce a maximum result. You’re after disproportionate returns on your investment. How to get rich quickly, how to lose weight without changing what you eat or how often you exercise, how to receive without giving. That’s easy – and it’s natural for us to want easy. It’s a fundamental survival mechanism baked into our animal brains, because every time you expend energy in the wild, you put yourself that much closer to needing another meal, another drink of water. Easy is not inherently bad.
Simple is very difficult. Simple is the removal of everything except what matters. Simple is the carving away of marble until the statue of David appears, removing all the extraneous flavors from a recipe, taking out the steps in the process that you don’t need. Simple requires mastery, not only of what you’re doing, but of the subordinate processes and techniques you need to achieve the result you’re after with a minimum of waste.
Consider some of the things that are simple to understand but not easy:
- The secret to losing weight is to consume fewer calories than you burn.
- The secret to getting rich on the stock market is to buy low and sell high.
- The secret to being wealthy is to spend less than you earn.
- The secret to stopping smoking is to never put another cigarette in your mouth.
Simple, right? Everything extraneous has been removed.
But not easy at all, because beneath that simplicity is a tremendous amount of effort, and that’s the difference between simple and easy: simple requires effort, whereas easy does not.
So, which should you focus on? The answer is both.
Easy is important. Anytime you’re starting something new, you need momentum, you need motivation. Sometimes that motivation is external to start, but keeping it going requires internal motivation too. Easy is the way to start building that motivation. We talk often in business and marketing about “easy wins” – the stuff that does deliver disproportionate results to the effort required.
- Sending two emails a month rather than one? Easy.
- Changing the language in your social posts to be more appealing? Easy.
Those easy wins will not deliver long-term growth, but they will motivate you and others to get started. If the barrier to adoption is low, then you’ll get people on board with what you want them to do.
Then, over time, you make the transition to simple. You start whittling away at the things that aren’t working, which could involve some discomfort. You remove obstacles – processes, sometimes even people – who block your ability to grow. You take away more and more until all you’re left with are the things that matter.
Think of easy and simple like making the base of a snowman:
It’s easy to get started, but over time, it requires more and more effort – but the results also grow more and more noticeable. After a certain point, you need to strip away every movement, every activity, every obstacle that gets in the way of pushing that massive ball of snow another inch forward.
When you do it right, easy transitions to simple. Effort increases, but so do the results.
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I often think about this difference. Simple is uncomplicated, lacking layers and complexity. And, as you point out, simple is not easy.
Excellent point about the layering and building aspect of easy, too. Very Zen Habits of you. 🙂
I never use “easy” or “simple” when talking with clients – rather I use “straightforward” as it implies it can be done and requires a level of effort to complete it.
Winner of Nobel Prizes and Field’s Medals, iconic political speeches, memorable movies — all convey very complex ideas in very simple language.
So do great business plans. Fantastic marketing. Brilliant VC pitches.
Your posting is timely as I struggle with the latter three issues.
Thank you for your wonderful post. You describe the differences so eloquently. I work with groups of business professionals training them on strategies to grow their businesses. I describe my work as simple, but not easy. Now, you have given me words to help them understand what I mean. I can simply point them to your blog.
Great post. Kinda reminds me of how professional golfers make golf look so easy. Simple as knocking a little round stationary ball into a cup. The game becomes easy when you strip away all the obstacles.