How to find simplicity in the complex.

Diana Lillicrap 6.7.2021


We often hear one of the most valuable things we do for clients is to help them distill down information into easy, bite-sized ideas or actions.

It might be related to what they know, what they want to say, or what they want to do. Most organizations have a wealth of information, but making it easy to understand or bringing clarity to what needs to be done can be difficult, especially when you are looking at the information from the inside. Unfortunately, when you are surrounded by tall, impressive trees, you have no idea how to navigate out of the even bigger forest.

So where do you begin when you need to find clarity in what seems like a mess? Having an outside view can help a lot, but even more than that, it’s important to use a process and ask a lot of good questions.

Define the problem

Start by defining your problem. What’s not clear? What are you trying to accomplish? What’s too complex and needs to be simplified? It may seem obvious, but putting it down on paper is an important first step to distilling something that is complex.

Think broadly about solutions

Once you are clear on what you are really trying to fix, the next step is to gather up all the information. Again, get it down on paper (or sticky notes or whatever other tool works for you). Ask a lot of questions and think broadly about the problem and explore every possible solution.

  • What are our goals?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What does success look like?
  • Who needs to be involved to solve the problem?
  • What barriers need to be overcome?
  • What is the bare essence of our offerings?
  • What really matters most to our audiences?
  • What is the simplest way to say what we need to say?
  • What is the minimum action we need to take?
  • What would be too extreme?
  • What are all the ways we could move forward if we had unlimited resources?
  • How will we know when the problem is solved?
  • Why haven’t we already solved this problem (what’s really stopping us)?  

Put the ideas in order

Now that you have it all down, step back and look for patterns and themes. What are the big ideas that kept coming up? What feels most fresh or most relevant? What were the “ah ha” moments during the process? If you were to create buckets for the various ideas, what would you name the buckets? This is where clarity starts to happen if you push yourself to keep it simple and straightforward. And make sure you take time to question if anything is missing and if you have truly prioritized what matters most. Critical thinking is key to simplifying the complex. 

If you go through this process, ask the right questions, and challenge yourself to get your ideas and information down to the simplest form possible, you’ll not only see the forest from the trees, you’ll have a clear path to navigate your way through it.

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