Jason talks with Alan Siegel, who is the author of the book Simple. They discuss about the ways people and companies need to make things more simple.
Simple is a groundbreaking and invaluable guide to achieving the three fundamental principles of simplicity: clarity, transparency, and empathy. It lays the foundation for organizations that want to enhance customer experience as a way to drive business results. This insightful book reveals the reasons why confusion continues to persist, inspires us to seek clarity, shows how organizations that embrace simplicity come out on top, and provides tangible, concrete ways to conquer complexity.
Narrator: Speakers, publishers, consultants, coaches and infomarketers unite. The Speaking of Wealth Show is your roadmap to success and significance. Learn the latest tools, technologies, and tactics to get more bookings, sell more products and attract more clients. If you’re looking to increase your direct response sales, create a big-time personal brand and become the go-to guru, the Speaking of Wealth Show is for you. Here’s your host, Jason Hartman.
Jason Hartman: Welcome to today’s show. This is Jason Hartman, your host. And as you may or may not know, every 10th show we kind of do a special tradition here that originated with my Creating Wealth Show where we do a topic that is actually off topic on purpose, something just to do with general life and more successful living and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today with our special guest. Again, 10th show is off topic and it is very much intentional, just for personal enrichment, and I hope you enjoy today’s show. And we will be back with our guest in just a moment.
Start of Interview with Alan Siegel
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Alan Siegel to the show. He is the CEO of Siegelvision, a brand identity consultancy and is founder and chairman of Meridice of the global brand strategy firm Siegel & Gale. He is considered one of the country’s leading authorities on business communications and his latest book is entitled Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity. Alan, welcome, how are you?
Alan Siegel: I’m fine, thank you.
Jason Hartman: Well, good. It’s a pleasure to have you on and I’d just like to give our listeners a sense of geography. Where are you located today?
Alan Siegel: I’m in New York City right around the corner from the New York Public Library.
Jason Hartman: Okay, and New York is not a very simple place by the way. But tell us a little bit about Simple and the crisis of complexity. I’m sure everybody listening would agree that the world has become a very complex place and it’s hard to find one’s way through it.
Alan Siegel: It is and life has become increasingly complex in our interactions with government and businesses that we deal with and the medical community in Taiwan really has become a very complex thing. I’d say, just as a couple of examples, the research I’ve seen shows that over 2/3 of the people who could benefit from and participate in the Affordable Health Care Act don’t understand it and don’t know how it’s going to affect them and are confused by it and disconcerted by all the misinformation. We’d just gone through doing our taxes and I don’t think I have to elaborate on how complicated and confusing and annoying that can be. That’s something that shouldn’t be like that. If you have children who are going to college, putting in applications to participate in the student loan program is a complex and potentially dangerous situation where you could really put yourself at risk for elder people dealing with the Medicare and Medicaid and social security is a semi-nightmare in many cases. And so you can go on and on, in the public sector, in our daily lives trying to understand your phone bill, your wireless bill, read an insurance policy, we would see what would happen with mortgages in the past 5 or 6 years. So pretty much anywhere you turn life is pretty complicated and further complicated by many of the things that technology has brought us. So as much as there’s a lot of efficiencies, when people build a lot of these new products they put so many features into it that they’re below the ringer and you can’t really use most of them.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, they call that feature creep and that’s a big thing. You look at the battle between Apple and Microsoft and clearly people are craving the simplicity of Apple products, no question about it. But, Alan, you’re behind some of the tax forms that we all use and simplifying them, aren’t you?
Alan Siegel: Well, at the end of the Carter administration, President Carter issued this statement that he wanted all government communications and regulations to be readable and understandable. And now, of course, with that is the IRS hired my firm to simplify the tax forms and instructions with the caveat that we had to work with, current tax code. And we did some really wonderful things. The administration changed and the one thing that was adopted was an easy form, which we did, which covers a lot of people. I think now, if you make up to $100,00 and you don’t have deductions, you can use the easy form. And we’ve worked a lot with the IRS.
There’s a huge opportunity – there’s a lot of talk always about simplifying the IRS materials, but it’s a huge undertaking and we can’t get anything done in Washington, so that seems unlikely.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, well certainly simplicity is something we need. Do you give advice on how people can manage their own life and make it more simple?
Alan Siegel: Well, it’s funny because if I go to a dinner party or I meet somebody and they me what you’re doing, I say that I simplify things – they ask me if I can simplify their lives.
Jason Hartman: Right. That’s a common cocktail party question.
Alan Siegel: I’m not a psychiatrist or a doctor and the only way I can simplify their lives is to try to get some of these organizations that I work with in government to make it easier for them to interact with these organizations. So if you go to a hospital, you check in. If you get a bill from the hospital, understand the bill. If you get a consumer credit contract, you can understand it and sign it with some degree of confidence that you’re not compromising yourself. So I can sort of indirectly simplify their lives but not directly.
Jason Hartman: Right. And I would assume that in your role, you are at odds with the legal team of these large corporations who want to put every little thing in the contract and make it completely comprehensive of course and probably adhesive and on the side of the big company naturally. But, in a way, does it limit company’s liability to make simpler contracts? Because, of course in the mortgage crisis we saw everybody throwing up their hands using the excuse, sometimes justified, that the contracts are too complicated, that they didn’t understand the loan they got into, that type of thing.
Alan Siegel: Well, I think the basic principle is that the lawyers are trained to protect the institutions that they work for. Lawyers are somewhat put in a difficult position because they have to, in many cases, have to work with legal regulations and requirements set up by federal and state city governments. And the people they work for are hiring them to protect them, but I think there’s a false sense of security, a contract that is overly complicated and readable. It is actually providing any more protection than something that is simple. I think the essence of a contract is mutuality. People are supposed to be able to read and understand and make an informed decision. And it’s always been my contention that if something’s simplified and it’s done with care and accuracy that it offers more protection than something that is a garbled mess.
So I mean I’ve been an advocate for the past 35 years on demonstrating that these complicated contracts can be simple, are accurate and don’t compromise the institution, but rather give them more protection.
Jason Hartman: And I would agree that it does give them more protection because people can’t use complexity as an excuse. This is especially true I think nowadays in these online agreements. Everybody has to agree to all these policies and they never read them when it comes to software and “Click Agree”. Google recently made changes to all of their privacy policies and made it basically the same across all of their different product lines but nobody’s reading that, Alan. It’s ridiculous.
Alan Siegel: Yeah. And you have these big companies which spend so much money advertising how wonderful they are and that you should trust them and you should build relationships with them. And then they create bills and contracts and other communications that are unintelligible. It’s self-defeating in my opinion.
And one of the things that’s gonna be a frustration to me is that the American people really are facing a crisis of complexity and are very receptive to organizations that go out of their way to communicate with them, with clarity, with creating things that are usable, not that are transparent and that really reflect an attitude of trying to have a degree of mutuality and build a relationship around informed decisions. And one of the interesting things that I’ve done with research is you’ve pointed out that people don’t read things. So part of the problem is that we continue to have these things because people don’t read them, they’re lazy, they have this learned response that they can’t make a difference anyway, and so that’s part of the problem. People aren’t standing up for their rights. And that’s of great concern for me. And I think in the past, it was hard to bring about change but I think using the example of Google and Facebook and other companies that use these contracts that say if you use the product, you agree to the agreement in the back and nobody reads it, people now, particularly in technology and with these products that have such a pervasive impact on your life, are reading them and are aggregating to bring pressure on these companies to change practices that offensive and I think that sets a model for the future where if you’re dealing with a company you’re unhappy with and you think they may have taken advantage of you, you can publicize that online and build a group of people who share similar experiences and go at these companies and put pressure on them to rethink the way they do business.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, absolutely.
Alan Siegel: So I think that’s a big opportunity that’s come about which could stimulate positive change.
Jason Hartman: o question. Well, in your book you talk about 3 principles of simplicity: empathize, distill and clarify. Can you explain that a little bit?
Alan Siegel: Well, entity goes back to taking into consideration your customer, what kinds of issues that they’re facing, what kind of problems they have, what they’re looking for in doing business with you and taking into consideration the degree of sophistication they have and treating them as individuals – not putting a contract together that doesn’t take into consideration who you’re doing business with or creating a product that is insensitive to the people that are your customers, for instance, if you’re a hospital. And people are coming in to see a doctor or check into the hospital to have an operation, not to be sympathetic to the emotional state that they’re in, the crisis they’re facing and treat them with kindness and decency. So empathy is really an underpinning to a lot of things. Distilling is important because what you need to do is just give the information that people need and it’s not that less is more, it’s that what’s appropriate is more. So in distilling things, customizing information and giving people information that’s particular to them, not having them look at things that doesn’t relate to them. So a lot of the work that we do in simplification to build conductivity with people is particularly we can do this with the new technology is customizing the material we sent to people that reflects who they are. So if you’re a customer of MasterCard or Visa or a bank, when you get a communications for them, particularly if you’ve been a customer for a while, you should take into consideration what kind of account you have and what kinds of transactions you have with them and what your relationship with them is and not speak to you and actually talk in terms of real numbers and real situations instead of talking to you as one of thousands. So customization and talking to people as individuals and making your communication more personal and having greater conductivity is a really important thing that comes out of distilization.
And then, finally, simplicity to me is clarity, transparency, usability, functionality, making sure that when you’re communicating with people or whatever it’s a contract to letter, an ad or a telephone system or a bill that it meets the criteria of being understandable. And there are so many cost effective ways that you can test this to ensure that these materials that you’re presenting can be understood and help people make decisions and help people do the right thing and keep people from putting themselves in jeopardy.
And there’s no excuse for not being able to make things clear. There are so many techniques that you can use now to validate that what you’re doing is clear. I have very little patience with companies that don’t do it right.
Jason Hartman: I couldn’t agree more – and companies that hide behind legalism and policies. And I almost hate to bring it up because it sounds cliché, but you just look at Apple – generally speaking, not always of course, they just do the right things for their customers most of the time. And their products are simple and when something doesn’t work, they’ve got immense support. I mean it’s the most valuable company in the world and their customers love them. They’re like evangelists, I mean their customers. I remember sitting around a table just last week in the British Virgin Islands talking about one of the people at the table who should convert to Apple products who uses Droid and PCs and literally 6 people around the table are trying to convince this one guy to switch.
Alan Siegel: The whole company’s built around ease of use and it looked not only of the most valuable company in the world, but they charge a premium price for their products.
Jason Hartman: Sure, but people are happy.
Alan Siegel: And they constantly upgrade their products and people turn them in and they don’t have to because they are so loyal to the company and dedicated to the company and it’s the perfect example of where simplicity has really worked. In recent times, I had an ongoing argument in my company with a lot of people – there were two sites – one was the Google homepage, which they really have been very careful about it, I talk about this in the book about keeping it absolutely simple and nothing goes on that page unless it meets 8 or 9 criteria so that homepage is simple and clean and totally usable. Then we compared it to Yahoo! which is a dog’s breakfast. And some of the technology people who have worked with me preferred the Yahoo! Homepage and then look at what’s happened to the two companies, right?
Jason Hartman: Yeah, what a difference. What a difference, no question. So you’re talking about organizational simplicity, you talk about the top down and bottom up paradigms of how to spread simplicity throughout an organization – what tips would you have there?
Alan Siegel: Well, when you talk about organizations, starting from the top one, who are you? Can you say in one paragraph who are you, what you do, how you’re different than your competitors and why anybody should pay attention to you? So it’s very important for companies to be able to define their identity in very simple and memorable terms that employees that work for the company, when they go out the brand ambassadors for the company can really reflect what the company’s all about and this helps make decisions as well. Secondly, what are the core messages that the company sends out to the world? That building reinforced that identity and positioning. And, 3, how is the company organized if somebody looks at the company and it has various divisions and lots of products? How is that made as clear as possible so people can get to and access the right part of the company that they want to deal with or understand what the company does or see how the pieces of the company fit together. And then what’s your grand voice? How do you talk to people? What’s the tone of voice in which the character of how you speak to people and how do you keep it clear and powerful and distinctive? If you have a product or you have people interacting with a company telephone answering system, how do you make it clear and meaningful and responsive, you know. And so if you deal with any part of Apple, a company you brought up, whether you go to their stores or you read the literature they have or look at the demos they have on how to use their products or go to their website or call them or go to their genius bar, everything they do has a special identity of Apple and has this wonderful persona and this clarity that totally distinguishes them. I mean none of their competitors can touch them.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, it’s really amazing how true that is – it really is. How does social media empower simplifiers?
Alan Siegel: Social media, to me, is an interesting way to talk about customization, to be able to talk to people as individuals on the one hand and give people an opportunity to express their thoughts and creates an environment where companies can interact with their clients and see what’s going on and understand how people relate to them and think of them and what they want to know. So I think it’s a great research tool on the one hand and it’s another way to create customized communications. It also creates a hell of a lot of noise and makes it very challenging to get your word out there and stand apart from your competitor. So it’s very challenging but a critical part of what a company does these days.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. And social media, also, it’s not usually reading a big, long essay. It’s sound bites. For better or worse, like television and media and general, so simplicity is there as well.
Alan Siegel: Well, yeah, it is. But, for instance, when I spoke to Ted I got a million tweets, but when I looked at the content of the tweets, they didn’t say very much.
Jason Hartman: Fair enough. I said for better or worse.
Alan Siegel: It’s a point of contact and it’s people communicating with each other and people having fun and people calling attention to things and then what it does is it’s just a reinforcement of how communications have changed and the power of communications and words. There’s immediate things happening. So corporations and government can’t sit back. They have to be set up to respond quickly and they have to be able to use the new media to contact people and they’re restricted in the number of words they use, be clever in how they do it. And it’s like dripping water on your forehead, you know, and it has to be a campaign – it can’t be a one-off thing. You look at the way President Obama ran his campaign and I was somehow on his mailing list. I mean, when anything happened I got a notice from him, you know? And then they commented on it and he admitted to campaign and you do that consistently for 6 or 8 months and it makes an impression on people and creates probably some of the most powerful communications during the campaign.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, well he ran his social media very, very well obviously, based on results. Give out your website if you would, Alan.
Alan Siegel: So if people want to reach me, they can do it at [email protected] And then for the book, my coauthor and I, Irene, are going to have a website called ForClarity.com and that’s basically a website we put up to get people to bring to their attention all kinds of interesting things that are going on around simplicity and dealing with complexity and connecting people who are really interested in the subject and giving them all kinds of information so that they can participate in it.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, fantastic. And the book, of course, is available on Amazon and I assume at all the usual bookstores and so forth. Give us your final thoughts on the simplicity issue in Conquer and Complexity.
Alan Siegel: I’ve been doing this since 1975. I’ve been frustrated by the fact that things are getting more and more complex and that people pay lip service to simplicity – it’s the exception rather than rule. And there’s a lot of discussion about things being simple that aren’t simple. But I had one sense of encouragement and I’m excited about it and that is with the advent of the internet it empowers people to ban together and not accept things at face value and challenge the company that they do business with and government to do a better job in communicating.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well, Alan Siegel, the book is Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Alan Siegel: Yes, nice talking to you, good questions and good luck to you.
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This show is produced by The Hartman Media Company, all rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.HartmanMedia.com or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate or business professional for individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network, Inc. exclusively. (Image: Flickr | Robert Scoble)
Transcribed by Ralph
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