Saturday, March 21, 2009

Friend of Simplicity – Dan Ward

Today I am delighted to introduce my friend Dan Ward who has a passion for simplicity so we have much in common. Dan is also a prolific writer and has written books about simplicity among other topics.

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 Eventually, it became a book in its own right (you can download it for free at, 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, 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.


Anonymous said...

Great interview.

Seeing as Dan has been a contributor to the blog, it's great to hear his story and listen to his ideas of Simplicity.

I'll need to think of some questions. Just enjoyed reading the interview first time around. What came to mind?

Simplicity meet Diversity. Dan offers much in the form of advice and leadership.

Dan----I was at the Air Force Academy last night for a gig and had a wonderful time. The Air Force Academy is acres of beauty set off by the foothills. However, when I left, I noticed that several officers were singing karaoke at the officer's club (Falcon Club). Great to hear the Fighting Falcons having such a great time...good people.

Unknown said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Scott! The AF Academy is indeed beautiful - my dad was an instructor there when I was in high school, so I sort of grew up in the Rocky Mt's.

I look forward to fielding your questions, and don't forget to pick up a free PDF of the Simplicity Cycle book!

Anonymous said...

Major Ward,

I had not heard the term "soft power" before and it definitely fits the role I had in several positions during my own Air Force career.I never really appreciated how the military leadership model is more closely aligned with that of "world class" companies and how off base the civilian perception is of the military.

"I also discovered that simplicity isn't easy to do, and sometimes it's not even easy to understand." captures perfectly how a great leader makes leadership appear easy and why so many managers never make the transition. Thanks for that insight. always an excellent interview and new knowledge to use and apply...

J.KANNAN said...

Trevor & Dan

Yet another great interview with Dan Ward.

Its bit difficult to bombard with words and expressions an US Air Force person by another Air Force person, as I am an Ex-Indian Air Force man. Good and glad to note that Dan is from US Air Force- an extra-ordinary affinity amongst and between Air Force people as I always feel. Yes we all worked hard and in togetherness to keep the force in the Air of their respective countries in tact but with out any complexity. I am personally impressed and happy to note than Dan will be moving into "Pentagon" a great place for US defence to work.

Inquisitiveness is good and Dan possess it as I have understood from his answer to Trevor's question No.2 in simplicity style." Simplicity Cycle" of Dan is amazing- from Magazine to Manifesto and then into book in its own spirit. I shall certainly go through "" to read,learn and know more and all said and done Dan is putting Simplicity Cycle in a right and professional manner to fulfil his concepts and innovations..

His writing concept and combination is really amazing covering children and adults vividly.

"Radical Element of Radical Success", a wonderful, beautiful and fascinating title. Lots of stuff in the mind store of Dan to come out in the form of books and I wish all success to Dan in his all endeavours and assignments and hope he be able to finish his Thesis(being too busy) before stepping into Pentagon.

On leader ship, Dan has rightly mentioned and according to me Business can learn a lot from Military Leadership with discipline and decorum. Yes Military is not all that barking orders that takes place but a lawful command-Obey it and then enjoy the success of the efforts with its fruits.- and that's the kind of Leadership in Military, probably business leadership should know , learn.and practice.

All the best , good luck and God's grace to Dan in his future endeavour and assignments.

God Bless You Dan.


Unknown said...

Wow, who knew that all Trevor's readers have Air Force connections! :) Thanks for the notes, everyone!

@Dave - I don't recall where I came across the term "soft power," but I think it's a fascinating and useful concept. It's just so different from the typical perception of what power is. I'm glad you found it useful too!

@ JK - Namaste! I am continually amazed by the internet's ability to connect us across borders, and am so excited to have made a connection with you all the way from India (and you being an ex-Indian Air Force man as well!). Your comments about my writings are very kind and much appreciated. I hope you enjoy the books and that they live up to their titles!

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dave, JK and Dan.

With all these friends involved in air travel I'm of course looking for good deals on flights to the US and India of course :-)

Seriously - A great exchange folks - I am honoured that my Blog offers the opportunity, as Dan says, to make these incredible links through the ether!

Life is good

Unknown said...

And thank you, Trevor, for the gracious and generous invitation to do the interview. Very fun!

Trevor Gay said...

I love it Dan - the pleasure is all mine!