I hope you enjoy the interview and bombard Dan with questions and comments
Trevor - Hi Dan – can you tell us a little about yourself and where you are based in the US?
Dan - I'm a Major in the US Air Force, which is equivalent to a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force. I'm currently studying systems engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton Ohio and after I graduate in a few weeks I'll be working at the Pentagon.
Trevor - You and I have a few things in common, not least the search of simplicity. What made you interested in simplicity in the first place?
Dan - I got there indirectly. As an engineer, I'm interested in pragmatic questions like "What works?" and "Why does it work?" As I tried to answer those questions in several different contexts (both organizational and technical), I eventually discovered that simplicity works. I also discovered that simplicity isn't easy to do, and sometimes it's not even easy to understand. That's when I began developing what I now call The Simplicity Cycle.
Trevor - Tell us about 'Simplicity cycle' and how you are developing that concept?
Dan - The Simplicity Cycle is a fun little visual exploration of the relationship between complexity, goodness and time. I first wrote about the idea for a Defense Department magazine, then turned it into a manifesto at ChangeThis.com. Eventually, it became a book in its own right (you can download it for free at Lulu.com), and it is currently one of the main principles in my research project. The book examines the value of complexity over time. In my daily work, I use the Simplicity Cycle diagram to understand, assess and communicate the value of a design or design change, trying to figure out if the change makes things better or worse. The main idea is that making something more complex does not always make it better, but obviously there's a bit more to the story than that. I've also had the opportunity to share it at a few colleges, and it's been incorporated into at least one design curriculum (that I know of). If anyone wants a copy of my lecture slides, I'd be glad to pass them along. Just drop me a note.
Trevor - Why do some managers make things so complicated?
Dan - I think a lot of people mistake complexity for sophistication. Also, making things more complicated can unfortunately produce a sense of accomplishment, because complexity looks like work.
Trevor - I know you are a prolific writer – how many books have you now written and what is your latest writing project?
Dan - Let's see, I've done a series of four novels for children, one collection of short fiction for adults titled The Desert, the aforementioned Simplicity Cycle, and one book titled The Radical Elements of Radical Success. You can check them all out at www.lulu.com/RoguePress, and I think you can read all of them online for free.
As for the future, I'm always working on multiple writing projects. Right now I'm mostly focused on my thesis and a couple technical articles, but I've also got plans for a new fairy tale novel titled The Helper In The Sun and a cooking book titled Cooking With Ingredients. If all goes well, they'll both be available by Christmas time. I'll keep you posted.
Trevor - Any plans to visit the UK?
Dan - I would love to! I was there as a kid and had a wonderful time, although the lack of acrobats, elephants and clowns in Piccadilly Circus confused me. I visited again several years ago and must confess I never quite got the hang of driving on the other side of the road. In fact, I almost sparked an international incident when I tried to navigate an exit ramp on the M1, so the next time I come visit, maybe someone else should drive me around.
Trevor - Finally Dan what can business learn from the military when it comes to leadership?
Dan - Gosh, that's a tough question. I spend a lot of time trying to learn from business, and don't often think of the reverse. Also, as an engineering officer, I don't really have what most people think of as "military leadership" experience. My career so far has been one big experiment in what Dr. Joseph Nye calls soft power, where I try to influence people who don't work for me and/or who outrank me. In fact, I think there is a widespread misconception about military leadership - despite what Hollywood tells us, it's not all about barking orders and forcing people to do stuff. So maybe the leadership lesson business can learn from the military is that even the military doesn't rely on a coercive style of "leadership" (which isn't really leadership at all). Soft power principles like communication, listening and cooperation are very effective and highly under-appreciated.
As General Eisenhower said, "You don't lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership."
Trevor - Thanks Dan - great to hear from you and good luck in all that you do.