Conquering Complexity, and How the Food Giants Hooked Us

AuthorDavid M. Cannon,Joseph H. Godwin,Stephen R. Goldberg
Date01 November 2013
Published date01 November 2013
© 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library (
DOI 10.1002/jcaf.21910
Conquering Complexity, and How the Food
Giants Hooked Us
David M. Cannon, Joseph H. Godwin, and Stephen R. Goldberg
Siegel, Alan, and Etzkorn,
Irene, 2013, Simple: Conquering
the Crisis of Complexity (New
York, NY: Twelve)
Moss, Michael, 2013, Salt
Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants
Hooked Us (New York, NY:
Random House)
In the first book selected
for review, Siegel and Etzkorn
address simplicity as a busi-
ness strategy for success. In the
second book, Moss describes
how the processed food industry
manipulates the sugar, salt, and
fat content of foods to excite our
taste buds and achieve profit-
ability goals as the population
gets increasingly obese and
While most readers are
familiar with the KISS (Keep it
Simple, Stupid) principle, few
would treat simplicity as a core
business strategy. Authors Alan
Siegel and Irene Etzkorn apply
the KISS principle to running a
business in Simple. They articu-
late how complexity saps orga-
nizations of profit and annoys,
frustrates, and angers custom-
ers, suppliers, and employees.
Their book illustrates how a
focus on simplicity can result
in efficiency and profit while
increasing the satisfaction and
loyalty of customers, employers,
and other stakeholders. Well-
respected organizations such as
Google, Apple, Southwest Air-
lines, Cleveland Clinic, Trader
Joe’s, and Phillips are identified
as having simplicity as a major
component of their business
models. The authors’ view is that
“simplicity is a bottom line issue
for business.”
Siegel and Etzhorn view
complexity not as a “necessary
evil” but as “a thief that must
be apprehended.” The authors
cite a study of the “two hundred
largest companies in the world
[that] found they were wast-
ing an average of 10 percent
of annual profit . . . as a result
of overly complex processes,
bloated product portfolios, and
increasing management layers.”
Almost all readers of this jour-
nal can relate situations in this
book to their organizations.
Numerous examples of
excessive complexity are cited in
the book. Consumer contracts,
such as bank deposit and loan
agreements, are more often than
not written in legalese that is
impenetrable to the typical con-
sumer. The City of New York is
cited as having separate depart-
ments trim trees that block traf-
fic signs, depending on whether
the trunk or branches of the tree
are obscuring the sign. City resi-
dents were apparently expected
to know this and call the right
department to report a problem.
The authors also cite the pro-
liferation of “features” in con-
sumer electronics to the point
that consumers often returned
newly purchased items because
they couldn’t figure out how to
operate them.
Lawyers are a favorite
target in the book, with their
tendency to play it safe with
“mind-numbing disclaimers,
disclosures, terms, instructions,
amendments, and amendments
to amendments.” The authors
note that the typical credit card
contract went from one-and-
a-half pages in 1980 to over 30
pages today. Few consumers
fully understand their insur-
ance policies or service agree-
ments with utility companies.
Such indecipherable legalese

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