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This week I was reviewing some of the simplest and most useful breakthroughs in business thinking...


This week I was reviewing some of the simplest and most useful breakthroughs in business thinking. Then this morning I happened to pick up a beautiful book called Brutal Simplicity of Thought written in 2011 by Maurice Saatchi, the thinking person’s advertising guru.  It’s really a long list of brutally simple breakthroughs, with one page of a few words, and the opposite page a simple illustration.

So I thought I would present you with a quiz, based on some of Saatchi’s idea and some of mine.  At the end I suggest how you might get into the ‘brutal simplicity’ game.

Write down your answers and then check at the very end the number you got right.  I’ll start with relatively easy questions, and then they’ll get harder.

  1. How do you hear the dead? How do you speak to the unborn?
  2. How do you carry a cow in your pocket?
  3. How do you catalogue everything?
  4. How do you draw like a child?
  5. How can you send a message without words?
  6. How do you turn one into ten by adding nothing?
  7. How can colour control human behaviour?
  8. How can you trust someone with no money?
  9. How can a useless piece of fabric determine social status?
  10. How can it be quicker to go through solid rock?
  11. How do you make densely populated areas pleasant?
  12. How do you speak to foreigners?
  13. How do you get customers to make your products?
  14. How do you persuade customers to buy more than they can carry?
  15. How can a pie save thousands of lives?
  16. How do you make folk trust your cooking?
  17. How do you make people behave?
  18. What single-page chart invented in the 1960s tell people what to do in all their businesses and products?
  19. What chart shows how many distributions of data are distributed ‘normally’?
  20. What chart shows the more interesting pattern when a few pieces of data are much more important than others?
  21. How do you make a horse go much faster and longer?
  22. Name three simple, universal ways of gambling?
  23. What simple, universal method involving a small piece of paper makes modern democracy work?
  24. Which three words destroyed the French aristocracy?
  25. How did two wheels emancipate women in the nineteenth century?

 We can divide the answers into the following categories:

  • Symbols
  • Inventions
  • Symbols and Inventions
  • Concepts

Your Brutal Simplicity Exercise

When you’ve read the answers – I need to keep going a bit so you can’t glance down at them – spend five minutes to half an hour inventing your own symbol, invention, or concept.  It should encapsulate something new and really useful in a simple way.  This could be the most useful thing you have done so far this week, maybe even this year.

A single brutal simplicity innovation can change the world, and perhaps make you rich or famous.


  1.  Language
  2. Coin with the picture of a cow on it
  3. Bar code
  4. Copy Picasso (or a child)
  5. Morse code
  6. Zero
  7. Red, yellow, green – traffic lights
  8. Credit card
  9. Tie (what Americans oddly call a ‘neck-tie’)
  10. Underground/subway
  11. Water closet
  12. Use a dictionary or Google translate
  13. Flat-pack furniture/simple instructions
  14. Carrier bag
  15. Pie chart – as used by Florence Nightingale to show how deaths in hospitals could be cut drastically, e.g. through better hygiene
  16. Put products in transparent containers
  17. Invent God
  18. Boston Box – cows, dogs, question-marks, stars
  19. Bell curve
  20. 80/20 or Pareto distribution chart
  21. Invent the car
  22. Horse-racing, cards, casino games
  23. Voting
  24. Liberty, equality, fraternity
  25. Bicycle

How many did you get?  If anyone got them all right, let me know and I will feature your genius in my next post!  I reckon 15 is a fair score and 20 good.