By RICHARD B. KELSKY
“Keep It Simple, Stupid” or “KISS” was the brainchild of an engineer at Lockheed as a guide for technical projects. It works equally well in life.
If you think about it, when things have gone wrong for you, complexity was probably a big factor. That’s why “keep it simple” is a mantra for a great life.
Take the hail damage to your car. An “Act of God,” right? Except that it happened when it was parked outside your girlfriend’s house when it should have been parked inside your garage — next to your wife’s car.
And that time you slipped off the treadmill at the gym? Anyone can miss a step … except you did because you were flirting with that hunk one treadmill over.
Last week’s fender-bender? That idiot in front of you stopped short —while you were texting. And that cop who should never have pulled you over and given you a DUI? You guessed it – that extra round of shots — complexity.
Same in Business
The same thing happens in business. Some folks take the simple route: set up a corporation, get insurance, put employees on the books and pay taxes.
Others make it complex: only accept cash, pay their workers off the books, and hope the IRS doesn’t figure out that their monthly expenses are more than their annual reported income.
Some get away with it, at least for a while. Even if they do, when they reach 65 they can’t stop working because they don’t have a retirement plan and their contributions to Social Security were so small that they’ll collect only gas money each month.
Steve Jobs lived by simplicity, even though it took an effort to get there: “That’s been one of my mantras —focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Here and Now
While all of that stuff makes for interesting philosophical conversation, let’s focus on the here and now of being a Financial Service Business. Ask yourself if you are making your day-to-day business operations more complex than they need to be.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to assist after a cash loss or during or after an audit with problems such as fraud, compliance (lack thereof), OPM (Other People’s Money), cash, liquidity, net worth and on and on.
Here’s one you’ll appreciate: I get a call late on a Friday night, long after I’m asleep, the voice on the message filled with panic and despair – an audit going badly and getting worse. I return the call early Saturday, expecting to find the caller in their store, working feverishly to get things straightened out – but it is answered poolside at a resort in the Caribbean.
“Rich, I need your help. I didn’t file some CTRs. It was my compliance officer’s fault; he’s a moron. The auditor is coming back in two weeks. What should I do?”
I resist the temptation to say what my father would have said, “You should have minded the store. You shouldn’t be on vacation.”
Instead, I start asking hard questions, most of which go unanswered. We agree to speak on Monday.
No call on Monday. The next time I hear from him, he tells me he’s selling the store and asks if I know of a job for him.
Ignoring responsibilities, letting problems pile up and avoiding dealing with issues brings complexity — a violation of the life rule of KISS.
Take Detroit for example. In denial of its economic crisis for years, it finally hired an Emergency Manager — Kevin Orr — who had Detroit file for bankruptcy. In an interview, Orr observed, “Delay doesn’t produce positive outcomes.”
Following the Rules
I admit that I might be considered a bit anal when it comes to following the rules. But there’s good reason for that. As a product of a ‘70s education and an ‘80s entry into the business world, I saw many of my peers cross the line —and some get into real trouble.
I always preferred to accept my losses as reality, picking up the pieces and moving forward. I realized that crossing the line produced complexity, and complexity meant risk, and risk meant trouble.
I’m not saying that I have had no complexity. A different kind of complexity. Mine was caused by work — too much of it. Day-trips to California and overnights in Europe. Time was my enemy. I slept less and less, and worked more and more.
A doctor friend recently reminded me that back in the 80s I said that I could train myself not to sleep. I got my sleeping down to 2.5 hours a night.
Product of Complexity
All of that was a product of complexity. I thought that I could counteract complexity by extending my workday to 18 hours. When I woke up behind the wheel, heading for a guardrail, I knew that was something I had to fix (luckily, I missed the guardrail).
By the way, when it came to school, I never, ever, did homework, and I crammed for every exam. It ultimately (and luckily) didn’t hurt my future, but if I had it to do all over again, I would study every night. I know now that it would have been far less complex and far less stressful.
When I started working after law school, I took the opposite approach. I did everything that was expected of me and more. I have maintained that daily work ethic to this day. It makes things much easier.
So when you’re told you need to do something for FinCEN, a state regulator, a bank, or your wire transfer or prepaid partners, just do it. Stop behaving like me in high school. You may find that doing what’s expected or required makes it a whole lot easier to run your business, because you are not spending time making excuses and managing self-created complexity.
Work at It
Whatever the cause of your personal complexity, the removal of complexity is a slow process that requires daily attention. You have to work at it constantly. You have to jealously guard your life from self-created complexity and invitations to complexity delivered by others.
Since we all bring complexity into our lives every once in a while, don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens rarely and the punishment is not too severe. But if it happens regularly, with high risk, and bad results, it’s time to get a grip.
Some indicators you may recognize are inability to sleep, irrational anxiety, overreaction and anger.
So Keep It Simple, Smartguy.
Richard Kelsky is president of TellerMetrix, a provider of POS transaction, compliance, interface, electronic deposit and marketing software to check cashers, payday lenders and retail banks. He is also a New York and Connecticut Bar member, a Polytechnic Institute of NYU and NY Law School grad, a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist and a frequent lecturer on business, legal, compliance, and technology issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article does not constitute legal advice and is an expression of opinion by the author and not of any entity or organization.