Learning – Keeping It Simple

simpleDuring my training career one of the biggest things I myself have learnt is – Keep It Simple.

When I was considering the content for this post, I cast my mind back to my first interview for an IT Trainer role. It turns out that is where my “keep it simple” philosophy was born. I had to deliver a presentation of my choice to a group of 6 people.

I chose “How to Mail Merge with Microsoft Word”. I put a whole paragraph up on the slide that explained in great detail what a mail merge is. I then said “but I like to keep it simple” and flashed up a one-liner – “send lots of mail, to lots of people with one click”. In the feedback I received afterwards, that one tiny, simple element was one of the things that clinched the deal for me*

It’s a philosophy I have obviously taken with me throughout my career – without perhaps realizing it. Now, when I think back there are so many examples which I will split into two categories – Analogies & Skeuomorphism.

Keeping in mind my company value of “Making Change Stick” – I make it stick by making the change simple, familiar and by using relevant analogies.

When I was training a group of Librarians at University Of St Andrews on how to file emails into personal folders (psts). I explained to them that they didn’t really need to have every folder open all the time. To make this statement relevant to them I asked them the question – “do you keep all your books on your desk just on the off chance that you might need to look at one of the pages or would you be satisfied knowing where the book is should you ever need to go and find it?” Nobody told me to “shhhh” after that; they were “silent”, listening to my every word.

Next up, I was to convince groups of skeptical people that upgrading to Microsoft Office 2010 was indeed, a good idea – how did I ensure their buy-in? I chose a simple feature that was relevant to them i.e. I showed a group of Engineers how easy it was to insert highly complicated equations into a document and watched while their jaws dropped.


I then showed a group of Office Assistants how quickly they could create and edit Organisation Charts and I swear I could see their stress levels lower.


For my last example, there’s an application called Password Safe that I am a big fan of and I really enjoy showing people how to use it. I was once about to demonstrate it to a mixed group of people who had no obvious connection with each other….until they started talking about a film they had recently watched – Lord Of The Rings. That was it! That would be my analogy. It’s been one of my most popular analogies because I went on to create a blog post and a short video building on the analogy. The Password Safe developers like it so much that they put it on their website and it has now had 8000+ views.

Those are just a few examples – I’m sure I have many more tucked away.

Up until a few months ago I would have thought this to be a nasty disease until I saw an article on the BBC News website. Even after reading the article I didn’t initially think too much of it….until I put it into practice and I realised this could be incorporated into my learning philosophy of “Keeping It Simple”.


I’ve always wanted to encourage people to start using Microsoft OneNote on a daily basis and ditch all the bits of paper and notebooks. However, I had never really got into it myself as much as I wanted and that always makes it more difficult to promote. After reading that article and thinking a little, it all became much simpler……why? Well take a look…..


As soon as I created a new template to look like an actual jotter, made the whole page visible without scrolling and set the typed text to sit nicely between the lines it just made it all so much easier.

Go Skeuomorphism! It’s your birthday!

In summary, how do I make change stick? I keep it simple!

*Upon subsequent chats with the interviewer she now tells me:

“I remembered clear as day your mail merge presentation – I remember thinking “oh my God, I’ve made a big mistake” until you showed the next slide keeping it simple and I thought “phew”

Isn’t feedback great?