Did your parents, or any other significant adult during your growing-up years, have any favorite sayings that have stayed with you over time? Adam Grant recently interviewed CEO Susan Salka, of AMN Healthcare and asked a question like this. Let me share the brief exchange.
Any favorite expressions that your parents would repeat often around the dinner table?
My dad has 10,000 expressions. When he would say these things as I was growing up, I would roll my eyes every time, but I find myself using many of those same expressions today. One of them has to do with keeping things simple and making people feel comfortable around you. If somebody was talking over his head, using big words, being too complex, or trying to act too sophisticated, he would say, “Would you break that down to cows, chickens and taters?”
I used to think it was silly — what do cows, chickens and taters have to do with each other? But years later, I realized that the message is, keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate things. As a leader, that’s something that I’ve really learned over time. The strategy and the business can be complex, but you have to explain them in a way that’s really easy to understand.
Cows, chickens, and taters. I like that. Even though I've never lived on a farm, that resonates with me. As a philosopher, I often know way too much about a subject, and I have to remind myself in many contexts to boil it down to its essence.
Simple focuses. Simple invites. Simple motivates. Complicated gets in the way. It's never necessary, until it is. But not until then.
So, whenever you're called on to describe what you do, or what your strategy might be, remember: Cows, chickens, and taters.