Photo credit: Kyle Ellefson
The year was 1998. Google had one goal: to create a search engine for the world.
They weren’t the first company to launch a search engine. Far from it. In the previous years, numerous other companies had launched various search engines that were already being used.
It wasn’t long before Google’s search engine became a leader in the industry, though. Users remarked on how easy it was to use Google for internet search. The homepage was so simple, so clean, and it delivered exactly what people wanted.
On the surface, the design looks incredibly basic. There are only a few things on the page, and its design almost seems like a no-brainer. But underneath that simple design was a lot of planning, systems, and just saying “no.”
For Google, that meant saying no to suggestions made by numerous employees and customers. Engineers would bring up ideas that could be added to the home page, while Google surveys indicated that users thought it would be a good idea to have more results per page.
But putting more options brings along negative consequences, such as longer load times and reduced user satisfaction. So Google decided to place tight restrictions on what could and couldn’t be added.
Whenever an engineer suggested a new feature for the search, it would first be placed on the advanced search page and evaluated on ease of use. Even then, Google would test vigorously to weed out any unnecessary complexity.
Over a series of tests, Google’s system gave them the knowledge and experience to make the best decisions for the company in the long run.
In a sea of competitors, Google stood out for giving its users less instead of more.
The Dilution Effect
So often we think that having more is better. More functions, more features, more conveniences.
But in the process, we over complicate. The primary problem that an object intended to solve gets lost. Instead of making something easier or better, the need to add more ends up making us confused or distracted, which defeats the initial purpose behind a product.
The same phenomenon happens with the goals that we choose to pursue.
Let’s say that you want to improve as a singer. To improve this skill, you take vocal lessons, study music theory, and practice singing daily at home. Outside these activities, you exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.
Although the latter activities aren’t directly singing-related, they improve your singing because they keep your body and vocal chords in good shape. All these activities combined help you become a better singer.
But let’s say that you’re also interested in carpentry. You read some books on the topic and spend much of your free time on building furniture at home. On top of singing and carpentry, you decide to pick up a new language.
So you dedicate some of your time towards learning from a tutor and practicing at home. These activities are largely irrelevant and take time away from singing, so your progress in singing becomes much slower.
This is the Dilution Effect. The Dilution Effect happens when we set out to achieve a specific outcome, but the addition of unnecessary elements detracts away from the desired outcome. Dilution takes your focus away from where it needs to be.
We only have a finite amount of energy. When we only have one thing to focus on, we can devote all our energy towards it. But when more activities call for our attention, our energy becomes divided, taking away what’s most important.
Being Simple Isn’t Easy
The reason why we stack more things into our lives is because we think that having more choices will make us happier. But more choices often leads to unnecessary complications. To make things easier for ourselves, we should move towards simplicity instead.
Simplicity isn’t easy, though. Tacking on more items indiscriminately makes us more feel at ease than taking a step back and trying to figure out what we don’t need. There’s comfort in knowing that we put in something “just in case we need it”.
Google was fully aware of this tendency. After all, their competitors were building search engines that had different options, daily information, and added features that combined together to make a busy homepage.
While it would have been tempting and considered a “safer choice” to give people more like their competitors did, Google took a bold move: they did the complete opposite and chose to minimize what they put on their front page.
In our lives, there is a similar need to overcomplicate, to keep adding more in the hopes that it’ll satisfy our demands. This also applies to our goals as well.When we try to do too many things at once, we get stressed and less productive.
There is beauty in simplicity.
How to Simplify Your Life And Achieve More
When you funnel your energy into pursuing a goal, you can accomplish far more than when you scatter it amongst a number of unrelated goals that are in different directions.
This concept applies to many aspects of life, though. For instance, when you…
- Explain a concept to someone: simplifying the words you use and saying only the most important points will get your message across more clearly.
- Design a product: limiting the number of features to only the essential means that customers will find the product easier to use and be more satisfied with it, which means fewer refunds.
- Decide what activities to spend your time on: Choosing only those activities in your life that push you towards the direction you want increases the likelihood and speed that you can achieve what you want.
While we have things we want to achieve that might conflict with each other — opening a clothing line and becoming a chef, for instance — you can do both. But not at the same time.
Google initially set its goal to become the top search engine in 1998, when the company was founded. It wasn’t until six years later in 2004 that they launched Gmail, their email system.
If you want to succeed, then focus on one area first. Once you’ve found success in that, then you can move on to conquer another area. When you simplify, you’ll find that doing less can be the best way to achieve the most.
The Two Questions You Should Be Asking
When deciding what to leave in and what to take out, it comes down to these two questions:
- What is your goal at this point in time?
- What do you need to do to achieve this goal?
Yes, it’s that simple. It might not seem so at first, but when you take away non-essentials and distractions, you’ll find that you move faster towards your destination than ever before.