A summary: Simplicity, Edward de Bono


“Dealing with complexity is an inefficient and unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy.”


Edward de Bono is the lateral thinking genius. In 1998, de Bono was described by Accenture as one of the Top 50 living business gurus. He has written several books, including Simplicity in 2002.

This outstanding read brims with anecdotes and challenger thinking. It’s been an inspiration behind some of our own thinking on how to simplify organisations.

Below we have summarised de Bono’s suggested 10 rules of simplicity. For more in-depth insights, we thoroughly recommend the book.


  1. You need to put a very high value on simplicity. Always strive for simplicity. Do not wait for things to become very complicated.
  2. You must be determined to seek simplicity. Simplicity flows from will. It needs to be active, fully integrated and not an add on.
  3. You need to understand your complexity very well. Lack of understanding leads to simplistic, not simple.
  4. You need to design alternatives and possibilities. The first idea is unlikely to be the best. Think creatively and laterally. Test and reiterate.
  5. You need to challenge and discard existing elements. If something can’t be justified, bin it. Be wary of becoming good at adjusting to a current system.
  6. You need to be prepared to start over again. Sometimes a blank page and zero base is better than modification. Have clear design criteria.
  7. You need to use concepts. Humans use concepts to simplify. Without concepts, detail naturally prevails.
  8. You may need to break things down into smaller units. Become comfortable simplifying sub-systems as part of an overall complex system.
  9. You need to be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity. For example, Accuracy vs. Simplicity. For effective trade-off, clarity is needed on values and priorities.
  10. You need to get to know for whose sake simplicity is being designed. Who is impacted by simplicity, and why?


Takeaway: There are many thinkers and writers on Simplicity – Ron Ashkenas, Niels Pflaeging, Yves Morieux – yet de Bono’s original and accessible narrative continues to stand out.

Twenty years on, his rules and thinking are more relevant than ever. Simplicity needs to be a chosen path, there’s no natural evolution to it.




Simplicity, Edward de Bono, Penguin Putnam, 1998