Wanting to simplify life? Just do it


“A little simplification would be the first step towards rational living, I think.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Simplify. You won’t find this word in the Oxford Dictionary’s list of the most commonly used words in the English language. But it has to be rising on the charts.

Simplification is the new black.

It’s the thing to do now that we’re being forced to make maddening choices like a tank of gas or a gallon of milk. A movie matinee or a box of Mike and Ike’s? This might be a slight exaggeration, but the blissful days of having both are vanishing. Unless you sneak your own box of Mike and Ike’s into a movie. But that would be wrong, so, ummm, yeah, you shouldn’t do that.

In everything except plasma astrophysics and randomized algorithms, simplicity could be the answer to nearly any problem. (I know, I know, math and science are logical and can technically be broken down into simple formulas, but who has that kind of time? It took me long enough to search MIT’s website for those course names.)

In some cases though, the simplicity of an idea is its genius. A perfect example: One day, in a meeting room in a Portland, Ore., advertising agency, a guy named Dan Wieden shifted the entire world of athletics by stringing together three words that are all actually listed in Oxford’s top 60 most commonly used English words.

“Just do it,” Nike’s notable slogan, is coming up on its 23rd birthday.

You felt yourself age a little didn’t you? Sorry. Does this help? The logo’s birth year, 1988, was the first year CDs outsold vinyl albums. One of Nike’s new spokespeople, Lea Michele from Glee, was 2 years old and still six years away from her first musical audition.

Maybe that doesn’t help. Let’s face it, 1988 was awhile ago.

Their 2010 slogan is their “Make Yourself” Movement for their women’s line, but it’ll never top Just Do It. That motto was nothing more than an advertising strategy, a creative means to a profitable end, but it worked. It’s still working. And the best part, it’s not rocket science (or plasma astrophysics). It’s common sense. Almost too simple.

The struggling economy, which I’m unqualified to analyze, could be the motivation some of us need to just do something. Or just not do something. Like say, not spend money on Mike and Ike’s. Or at least grab a small box.

It’s hard not to recognize the need for a shift when everyone in the grocery store is contemplating the 25-cent difference between large and extra-large farm fresh eggs.

Dan Wieden made Nike billions of dollars by condensing an enormous idea into eight letters and a swoosh.

Simple.

Transfer that approach to nearly everything else and we might make some headway on all things frustrating. I, for one, will never be the person with a grocery list that both makes it to the store and is followed exactly. Or keep up with a detailed day planner. I wasn’t programmed to master the art of a precise schedule.

But someday I hope I can say I mastered the art of simplicity. I’m afraid I won’t have a choice. I’m too forgetful for chaos. I can’t afford to not pay close attention to the grocery bill, yet I’m not particular enough to sit down and track each purchase.

And sadly, I’m too flaky to follow through a meticulous master life plan or categorized grocery list for that matter.

I just can’t do it.

 

Editor’s note: The original version of this column ran in August 2008.


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