Every organism right down to the amoeba is naturally inclined to seek the simplest solution to any problem, the simplest path from point A to point B.

A Harvard University student conducted an experiment to determine if the simplest explanation for a cause would be chosen over more complex explanations. Subjects preferred the simpler explanation 100 percent of the time. Human beings crave simplicity.

Understanding this fact about human nature is key to delivering satisfaction to your customers. In an environment inundated with saturated product categories, cluttered advertising landscapes, and a constant influx of media, simplicity serves as a competitive advantage.

Simple cuts through the clutter

Consumers are 87 percent more likely to recommend to a friend a brand they consider simple versus a more complex one, according to new research conducted by Marketing Week.

In an era when consumers are overwhelmed and confused by the insane amount of offerings, information, and messaging they receive on a daily basis from businesses and media, the perils of complexity are great.

A study featured in the Harvard Business Review outlines the concept of the “decision simplicity index,” a gauge of how easy it is for consumers to gather and understand information about a brand. The study uncovered three key factors: navigation (ease of gathering information), trust (how believable the information is), and comparison (ease of weighing options).

The easier you make it for consumers to decide, the more likely they are to choose you. And when you’re not the simplest solution, you’re guaranteed to lose out in the consumer decision-making process.

Marissa Mayer and the Swiss Army knife

Image by AJ Cann via Flickr.

Before heading to Yahoo in the summer of 2012, Marissa Mayer was Google’s director of consumer web products and the company’s heroine of simplicity.

She understood how tapping into the human desire for simplicity has contributed to the company’s success. “Google has the functionality of a really complicated Swiss Army knife,” she has said, “but the home page is our way of approaching it closed.

“It’s simple, it’s elegant, you can slip it in your pocket, but it’s got the great doodad when you need it. A lot of our competitors are like a Swiss Army knife open – and that can be intimidating and occasionally harmful.” It’s Google’s uncomplicated design that has given the giant a majority share of the search market.

Google has mastered simplicity because it understands the way users behave and interact with products. When it comes to technology, consumers are seeking, above all, ease of use. Google gets it. Said Mayer, “[The Google home page] gives you what you want, when you want it, rather than everything you could ever want, even when you don’t.” Consumers don’t want everything they could possibly ever want; they want only what they want right now and nothing more.

Simplicity, Speed and GE

Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and coauthor of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization, describes his time with GE’s consulting team in 1989. The team was formed by CEO Jack Welch to transform the company from slow and bureaucratic to fast and flexible. The team developed the “GE Work-Out process” with “simplicity” emerging as a key goal.

In Welch’s view, speed and simplicity were closely connected, and both were critical to the company’s success. In order to move faster and be more responsive to customers and markets, GE would have to reduce the number of steps required to accomplish goals and make it easier for all employees to understand company processes.

But simplicity at GE ultimately became more than just process streamlining – it became a company culture. It might seem radical to constantly think about how to become simpler and to embrace simplicity on every level, and yet it worked wonders for GE and it can work for you.

For simplicity to succeed, it can’t be just a marketing or an organization strategy, but rather an essential value and philosophy, reaching to every aspect of the business.

This excerpt, adapted for Sparksheet, is from Likeable Business: Why Today’s Consumers Demand More and How Leaders Can Deliver by Dave Kerpen. Published by McGraw-Hill. Used by permission.