We live in an era that encourages complexity. Are your “channels integrated”? Are your “constituents networked”? Did you make sure that you’ve “leveraged multi-level communications”? Is your staff “incentivized for program output”? Is your mission “oriented towards impact”?

In the modern world there are an abundance of ways to add complexity to your organization. It is increasingly easy to append layers and layers to your technique, communications, program, and mission. But complexity does not equal sophistication. Unless you have a rare clarity of vision and dogged focus, you will find that too many layers create a great big giant muddled mess.

Years ago, I read an interview with pianist and composer David Foster. He related a lesson from producer Quincy Jones:

He made me play a song for him once with one finger. I was playing it with a lot of flash, and he said, “Wait a minute. I just want to hear the song.” I’d taper it out and cool it more and more, but finally he grabbed one finger and said, “Play me the song with this finger!” Now, that’s hard to do. You can play Moon River with one finger, no problem. But try and play some funk tune, with no melody and no real content, with one finger. You can’t do it.

I love the mission of charity:water. When the describe themselves, they say: “charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations.” Boom. That’s it. Simple. That’s not to say that their approach isn’t driven, sophisticated, and thoughtful. It’s all of that. It is also elegant. It is simple.

Complex is easy to do. Sophisticated isn’t. It starts with stripping everything down to the melody and saying to yourself, would I hum this tune?