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Goldilocks, Three Bears, and Productivity Software

You may remember that fairy tale in which Goldilocks got herself locked into a repetitive rut about choosing her optimal rocking chair, porridge, and bed softness settings. Every time, for every choice, first it was too little, too much, and then just right.

There’s a lot to say about Goldilocks (and all of her consumer friends) related to business offerings and product development; particularly, software product development. Think about business productivity software.

In productivity software, what most of us want is simple. Easy to use and understand. Hooray. Except that we don’t buy simple. We don’t even buy just right. We buy too complicated. Too hot.

Sure, there are exceptions. Most of them are old-timer exceptions, like the original QuickBooks (vastly simplified checkbook data entry) and VisiCalc (vastly simplified business financial analysis). Maybe there are some this-millennium exceptions too, like possibly Basecamp, Skype, and what else? There aren’t a lot of them. Not when we stick to simple.

I get choosing the big and complex stuff for database management, accounting, even for graphic design. But in productivity software, no. Simple is probably better.

Here’s a problem: we don’t buy simple, at least not easily, not for productivity software. Worse still, we don’t even buy just right. We buy too big, too tall, too hard. We don’t want software companies talking down to us. We don’t want a simple word processor, we want that big word processor that can scrape names off the web and read data and do mailing lists and footnotes and color coding and tracking changes and versions and write from right to left too. We want it to absorb graphics and resize and reshape, and, if we click the right place, add and subtract and tell us our horoscope too.

And then we don’t like it. Everybody wants simple, but nobody buys simple in productivity software.

Am I wrong about this? Is there successful productivity software out there that’s taken the simple and effective strategy, instead of adding everything including the kitchen sink? Tell me, please.

(Image credit: Rob Byron/Shutterstock)


  • themadpeacock says:

    I think 37 signals has a good “keep it simple stupid” approach to their software. They play in overcrowded spaces like CRM, project management and team collaboration but focus on simplicity over extra functionality.

    Technology companies are generally staffed by early adopters; people who by their very nature are functionality junkies. When looking to improve their existing software product managers generally find removing complexity harder than adding it.

  • andrewnim says:

    No, sadly you are not wrong. It is a main undercurrent of my advice and work I do with business. What do you you need and what will you need, not what do you want. Most company need a decent email program for outside communications and a simple WP. All internal com’s should take place as a conversation. Email is not a conversation. Half of what they do in exel is better done by a true database management tool and someone who knows what they are doing. Most of the time people end up working the software not working.

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