September/October 2011
Executive Corner

'Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler'

By Brian LaBelle

The abbreviated quote by Albert Einstein-"Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler"-can be used to illustrate an important contributor to business success.

In the industrial automation world, customers require products that fulfill a need or solve a problem. They want straightforward products, not over-engineered with unnecessary features that increase costs and reduce reliability. From the manufacturer's standpoint, providing products in the simplest form, which address that need or problem, is the first step toward success. How consistently the manufacturer accomplishes this is a strong determinant of success.

Customers consider several product aspects when buying-how simple the product is to use, how reliable it is, and how affordable it is. For the manufacturer, creating a simple product is not necessarily simple-it challenges the designer to be as efficient as possible, refraining from adding features that may be technologically impressive, but of peripheral value in meeting the need for which the product was intended. More often, extra features make the product more complicated to use, more unreliable, and more expensive. From a reliability standpoint, minimizing moving parts reduces the chance of malfunction. And a simple design will also result in the most cost-effective product to manufacture-fewer parts mean less materials and labor to produce.

The classic example illustrating the principle of product simplicity is the mousetrap. Invented in 1894, the mousetrap solves a precise problem by using a plain spring-loaded bar and trip mechanism. The simple design not only makes it very easy to use, it also results in two other important advantages. With few mechanical parts, reliability is high, and it is very inexpensive to produce. Compared to today's sophisticated electronics, the mousetrap appears elementary. The original design, however, has not changed for more than 100 years, and the product remains popular today. Its longevity proves that indeed sometimes less is more.

The product characteristics of simplicity, reliability, and affordability that affect the customer's buying decision can be extended far beyond the actual product, and when implemented effectively, can create the best customer experience possible. In terms of simplicity, how easy is it to do business with the manufacturer? Can the customer easily get the product through the distribution channel? How effective is the distributor in providing the product? And how easy is it to install and maintain the product? The answers to these questions determine how satisfying the customer experience will be.

Reliability is another product characteristic that can be extended to the total buying experience. A certain stock level in the distribution channel is essential to ensure quick delivery. How reliable is the distributor in stocking? Is the manufacturer's product documentation trustworthy? Do the manufacturer and distributor have a history of working together that the customer can rely upon?

Economy, another attribute derived from the simplicity concept, goes far beyond the initial product cost. How economical is the product to operate over time? Does it require frequent maintenance or service? If service is required, how expensive is it? Ultimately, the customer will determine which manufacturer best lives up to the promise of economical ownership.

In the end, it is not just the product that keeps the customer coming back, but the customer experience as a whole. To quote Einstein once again,"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. … It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction."


Brian LaBelle ( is director of Marketing for GF Piping Systems (, a provider of engineered solutions for the conveyance, measurement, and control of liquids. The company provides a range of piping products and instrumentation, including flow, pH, conductivity, pressure, temperature, level, turbidity, and chlorine monitors.