I’m pretty much a sports legend.
Last month in Las Vegas, I won the best dressed award at the first annual CPA dodgeball tournament. A lifetime of systematically ridding myself of dignity finally paid off. You’re welcome, ladies.
In 2005, I played in the annual Dixon Middle School faculty versus students basketball game. It was the only year I played in my eight-year career. It was also the only year the faculty lost in the school’s 75-year history. You’re welcome, students.
And in 1991, I invented the sport Beast Ball. Never heard of Beast Ball? Probably because you’re a wuss. Or maybe because you’ve developed a tolerance to unnecessary complexity.
Beast Ball was developed in the belly of a church youth group in western Washington. I was the youth group’s “adult” leader, and as soon as we started playing any sort of game, these junior and senior high school students would start arguing about the rules. Can you strike out in kickball? I don’t care. Kick the damn ball and run off the sugar from the fourteen free generic Nutter Butters you just ate so you can sit semi-still while I try to distract you and your hormones from the pastor’s daughter long enough to impart some spiritual truth into your sin-hole. (Don’t ruin my story. By “sin-hole,” I mean heart. Sin-hole just sounds funnier. If you think about it too long, you make it dirty and ruin my story.)
But I’m an innovator, and I realized that fewer rules results in a higher-quality game time experience. I took that truth to it’s logical conclusion and wound up with Beast Ball, the sport with no rules. Here’s how it works. You get two teams. You go to a soccer field. Put the ball in the goal to get a point. The game ends when somebody gets hurt. “Hey, Greg, those sound kinda like rules.” Shut up, nerd. They’re directions, not rules. “What happens when the ball goes out of bounds?” The other team throws it back in. Okay, you win. That’s a rule. So we had one damn rule. “What happens after a team scores?” The entire team that scored gets in the goalie box and kicks off to the other team that is lined up midfield. “How badly does someone need to get hurt for the game to be over?” Seriously, shut up. We figured it out. You’re missing the point.
Beast Ball was AWESOME! Everyone who played love it! We all have great stories of the game. I once got taken out by a seventh-grade girl who was half my size. It was Beast Ball, and magic like that can happen on the Beast Ball field. Tangentially, no one ever got seriously injured, and neither I nor the church ever got sued. (Beast Ball was curtailed because, as the youth group grew, so did the Board of Directors’ fears of injury and/or lawsuits.)
Here’s where I’m going. You need to recognize complexity is an invitation to innovate. You need to go Beast Ball on your clients.
When Steve Jobs went hunting for industries or categories that were ripe for disruption, he looked for industries and categories that were making things more complicated than they needed to be. (See Walter Isaacson’s HBR article.) GAAP is more complex than it needs to be. The tax code is more complex than it needs to be. Your clients’ financial data is more complex than it needs to be. As a CPA, you can either cry about how hard all this is, OR you can be excited that this ridiculous level of complexity gives you a wide-open opportunity to innovate your brains out.
True simplicity comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity. (Again, I stole that idea from Isaacson’s article.) Elegance is functional simplicity. You achieve elegance when you lack nothing essential and contain nothing extraneous. Antoine Saint Exupery said, “Elegant design is achieved not when nothing else can be added, but when nothing else can be taken away.” (I learned that from an essay by Jeanne Liedka about Coco Chanel’s invention of the “little black dress.” I’m not just a sports legend; I’m a fashionisto. (It ends in “o” because I’m a dude.) Refer to best dressed, CPA dodgeball 2012.)
In their Fast Company article, Bruce Kasanoff and Michael Hinshaw explain, “The more complex the processes and practices in your industry, the greater your opportunity to gain competitive advantage by simplifying them. Yes, doing so will be very hard. But that’s the whole point; the first firm to do so gains tremendous advantages.”
You will bring tremendous value to your clients when you can conquer the complexity of their financial data to the point where they will sit semi-still while you impart financial truth into their debt-hole. Seriously. Stop ruining my stories.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.