When Tom Petty headed west from Gainesville, Florida to seek fame and fortune, he brought his Rickenbacker guitar and a knack for writing crisp rock and roll songs that told vivid stories. Over four decades he left a trail of hits few peers could match.
Petty songs stand out, with hooks you hum for days, but they are simple. In fact, the core of many songs consists of only a few chords. Free-Fallin’ – 3 chords. Running Down a Dream – 4 chords. Mary Jane’s Last Dance – 4 chords. Won’t Back Down – 4 chords. Learning to Fly – 4 chords. You Don’t Know How It Feels – 4 chords.
I once noted the simplicity of Petty songs to an avid fan who took offense thinking I was taking a shot at his idol. I was saying just the opposite. The Heartbreakers were a great band playing memorable songs – leaving out what was unnecessary, but making sure what was left in, was played well.
Don’t we tend to overcomplicate good ideas? That is a shame.
Herb Kelleher, who revolutionized air travel with Southwest Airlines, drew out his concept on the back of a bar napkin at The St. Anthony Club Restaurant in San Antonio. (1)
Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur, has 2 simple rules when being pitched on an idea. The offer had to be free of jargon and short enough to fit on a drink coaster. “If your pitch can’t fit on a beer mat, a napkin, or back of an envelope, I’d rather listen to someone else’s pitch that can fit,” One idea that fit turned a $10 million investment into a $3 billion-dollar company within three years. (2)
Sure, more in-depth planning is eventually needed, but don’t let the beauty of the original idea get lost in reams of detail. And when you do put together that more extensive plan, make sure you have a summary page – a simple sheet that sums it all up.
The same is true for those of us who do investment, estate, or insurance planning. I have developed financial plans for clients that required pages of charts and projections, but I always included a “one-pager” that synthesized all of the information down to a few bullet points that related back to the client’s goals. In client meetings, 95% of the time would be spent on that page.
Too often, we complicate things when the best results come from simple ideas done well. Tom Petty understood this – so did Herb Kelleher and so does Richard Branson.
Our clients come to us for financial planning, hoping we can make things easier for them. They want solutions they can readily understand, free of industry jargon, that resolve their problems elegantly and simply. The simpler the answer, the easier it is to manage well over time – an added plus. It is up to us to recognize this.
Out of complexity, find simplicity! – Albert Einstein