Simple Or Complicated? This Test Reveals The Truth


In a McKinsey survey, 62% of executives, managers and employees reported that org structures and processes make it difficult to get work done. While there are many causes for complexity — rapid growth or fear-based leadership, for example — it’s not a fatal diagnosis. Anyone at any level can start simplifying things within their own sphere of control.

What exactly constitutes a simplified state? After interviewing hundreds of experts and academics for my book, Why Simple Wins, my team and I invented an awkward but effective acronym to remember what simplicity is: M.U.R.A.

“M” is for minimal and refers to the number of steps, features, approvals, pages, etc. standing between you and the completion of something. The Apple brand exemplifies minimal: from the online and Apple store experience to packaging and products. Minimal is also evident in Apple’s decisions to remove the headphone jack from new iPhones and phase out products like the no-longer-relevant iPod.

The “U” in M.U.R.A. stands for understandable and refers to clear, straightforward language that can be easily understood by the average consumer. Case in point: the mortgage documents at Citibank. Before they got a M.U.R.A. makeover, homebuyers encountered a run-on sentence containing 250 words and dozens of semicolons. After simplifying, it was just 27 words and a single semi-colon.

The “R” signifies repeatable. This refers to things that are scalable and can be easily replicated. Think in terms of templates, not something that’s bespoke or custom-made. Picture a pilot entering a cockpit: Does she need training every time she flies a new plane? No, because most instruments are in the same position in every cockpit, so she can replicate the operation of flying a plane on-demand.

Finally, the “A” is for accessible, which means it’s available to as many people as possible. It comes with transparency so outsiders can access or use it, and there are few or no gatekeepers involved. Progressive Insurance’s price-comparison feature offers an example of accessibility in action. This brand lets you see their competitors’ prices — but not because they expect you to take out a policy elsewhere. They’re betting you’ll choose them because they’ve made the information accessible and saved you the hassle of gathering quotes.

In your own company, consider sharing the M.U.R.A. mantra with your own teams. When doing so, encourage them to write these four questions on sticky notes to keep simplification top of mind:

  1. Is it as minimal as possible?
  2. Is it as understandable as possible?
  3. Is it as repeatable as possible?
  4. Is it as accessible as possible?

Before they deliver their next project, ask them to run it through the four-question M.U.R.A. test. If their answer to any of the above questions is “no,” encourage them to keep simplifying. If their answer is “yes,” they’ve officially simplified it.

One pro tip: while the goal is to make things as simple as possible, try not to oversimplify either. As in, if you reduce a hundred-page contract down to a single page — General Electric actually did this — but now you need to spend hours explaining all the things you left out, you definitely oversimplified. As G.E. discovered, a 10-page contract is both a happy medium and major improvement.

Making things minimal, understandable, repeatable and accessible is key to unlocking productivity and simplifying your daily work. By introducing the M.U.R.A. test, you and your teams can reduce barriers to productivity and clear the path toward a simplified state.

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