What can modern business learn from the Little Black Dress?


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I was reading the book Rework by the guys over at 37signals.com the other day and p.83 struck me.  On that page they were talking about the way that we, when faced with a problem, tend to throw more resources, time, money or people at it. Their advice, honed from building very effective software tools, is to do the exact opposite:

Throw Less at the Problem

I think the main thing they were advocating was to have the courage to step back and take a long hard look at the issues that you face in business and/or life and to ask: What does this situation really need? How can we make it simpler? How do we make the life of our people and customers easier? Is the core of our answer built to last?

This can seem counter intuitive and can take real effort and guts but the result can be something that endures, something that is great, something that lasts and something that is loved by its customers, owners and users for a long time.

One example of this ‘Less is More’ approach is the Little Black Dress, which has been around since Coco Chanel introduced it to the world of fashion in the 1920s. I’ve seen many descriptions of why the Little Black Dress has been and continues to be so popular but my favourite has to be the one (I forget the source) that described it as

“Never in fashion, never out of fashion – it’s just perfect and has been for the last 90 years”.

I think there are great lessons here for us when it comes to creating great businesses and, I think, that we can learn a lot from the world of art, science and design about the benefits of simplicity.

That’s not to say that simple is less thorough. No, not at all. Simpler in this sense will invariably be more considered and a better solution as it will not contain anything superfluous. To get to this stage may take some soul-searching, hand wringing and a little disappointment here and there but it’s not impossible.

Here’s some more quotes from some leaders in their own fields about the benefits that come from looking for a simpler way:

“You know when you have achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.” – Antoine de St. Exupery

“I know you have 1000 great ideas for things that iTunes could do. And we have 1000 more. But innovation is not about saying “yes” to everything. It’s about saying “no” to all but the most crucial features.” – Steve Jobs. CEO Apple Computer Inc (to a user conference)

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” – Charles Mingus

I particularly like the last one from Mr. Mingus.

Where in your customer experience, operations, marketing messages, business strategy, technology choice, HR processes etc etc could you make things simpler? How could that benefit you and your business?


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