What if the way to succeed in the digital age was just found in simplicity? Welcome to business in the frictionless age.

For most of civilization, humanity's problem has been scarcity. We’ve lacked food, water, safety, trust, or information, but now our greatest problem is the opposite: It’s abundance.

Few companies realize this. They live in the world of extra--more content, a greater variety of products, new technologies, new stories, additional media channels, and new ways to connect with people on new screens all become vehicles for more. We’re endlessly asking consumers to do more, to “share your story,” to take part, to upload or complete a satisfaction survey.

My one-word strategy for companies to succeed in the modern digital age is simplicity. In a world with more than enough of everything, it’s the companies that remove cognitive burden that unleash spontaneity and make the complex easy. People with the greatest disposable income correlate perfectly with those who feel their attention is limited and their time scarce. The rewards for success are huge.

The removal of friction is what unites the most successful companies of a generation. It’s the thin, perfectly designed, seamless experience of Uber, Amazon, and Airbnb that becomes these companies' strongest asset. It’s the almost perfect specificity of Hotel Tonight, Shyp, or Instacart that allows rapid user growth.

These are companies that grow the market. Uber isn’t so much destroying the taxi market as it is making more people do more things, more often.

Thanks to Seamless and other delivery apps, the entire market for food delivery has grown faster than ever before. Apps have not cannibalized from those that used to call for food--they’ve converted those that couldn’t be bothered.

I buy things from Amazon that I assume won’t always be cheaper because it takes a single click. YPlan has made me go to events I never would have considered. I’m stuck with Kayak because it’s saved my payment information, and I like Hotel Tonight because it reduces options to think about. Complexity can exist in the mind, not just in the UI.

Success lies in websites that are confidently and boldly designed, easy to use, and not just mobile first but optimized for every platform. Design should remove all potential barriers by offering seamless sign in; keeping personal details on file and secure; autopopulating; and using all the information that’s available, including users' location.

I’d love to see a generation of the brightest minds in advertising focus less on adding new things and more on reduction.

What about a simpler product offering?

The companies that make new things possible are often those that are most celebrated, but the ones that make things simpler are typically more successful. Apple has rarely been first--it launches a mere handful of phones a year but skims 92 percent of profit in the entire smartphone ecosystem. Meanwhile, Samsung sweats out 50 or more phones a year to make a mere 5 percent. In a world of endless line filling and specialization, what if brave omission was the way forward?

What about making a purchase easier and spontaneous?

Mobile commerce’s true potential doesn’t step from mobility, but rather from its security and personalization. A device with a touchscreen and TouchID designed for a single user is the easiest way to buy products and services we’ve ever known. If Amazon patented one-click shopping, what about one-press shopping? Why can’t I buy from ads online with my thumbprint to my default address and send the payment straight to my default credit card? Why can’t I be offered available seats as I walk past theaters? Or an upgrade to my rental car I can accept with one swipe? Or booked on earlier flights as I arrive at the airport?

What about making experiences better?

I’d love to be checked into a hotel automatically by entering the premises and receiving a short notification on my mobile prompting a swipe to check in. I’d like my phone to then become my key. I’d like to check out in a similar manner. Every service brand, from airlines and hotels to restaurants and retailers, should be viewing the internet of things as a way to make everything frictionless and fast. What if your point of difference could be simplicity? I’d love to use my Amazon Echo to navigate TV shows or select movies. I’d like to pay for things in retailers with self-checkout, to see jeans on display I may like in ways that are logical, not experiential. I’d like to be able to reorder the same jeans by taking a photo.

New technology is often how companies ideate, but on the basis of the notion of additive thinking. Let’s use technology to solve problems, not create more. How can we simplify and make easy? What becomes of business in the frictionless age?

Published on: Sep 8, 2015