Anyone who was at Citrix in the early years will remember “Stick Man.” This was the mantra of Roger Roberts, the CEO who grew Citrix from pre-revenue to a half-billion in sales.

Stick Man was the summons to make everything as simple and streamlined as possible. He was everywhere at Citrix – in our engineering, finances, marketing and sales departments.

If you were presenting your next big idea at a meeting, it was typical to hear a bark from the back of the room: “STICK MAN!”

That’s when Roger, in his distinctive Texas drawl, would start pressing for details –while simultaneously attacking the superfluous:

  • Why does this process have ten steps, when it could be done in eight?
  • Why does it take a hundred words to explain our product?
  • Wouldn’t fewer widgets on the product dashboard be better?
  • Why are we tracking twenty different metrics, when only five are important?

Before long, we all challenged ourselves and our peers in this way. Stick Man became central to the Citrix culture.

Humans like to make things too complex

This month, the journal Nature published a scientific study that shows how humans almost never consider subtracting something to solve a problem. Our default tendency is nearly always to add something.

In our society, creating something new is usually what’s celebrated. Few people decide to make something better by making it smaller. “Bigger and better” is the saying, after all.

But here’s what’s interesting: When the study’s participants were told that “subtractive” solutions were a possibility, the likelihood of applying them increased.

Of course, Roger Roberts already knew this when he infused us with Stick Man.

When I joined Citrix, revenue was at $14.5 million. Just five years later, revenue was near $500 million. That’s when Roger handed the reigns to my marketing mentor, Mark Templeton. By the time Mark retired as CEO in 2015, revenues eclipsed $3 billion.

Here is what Mark said in a recent podcast interview: “Unless you ask for simplicity, you’ll tend not to get it. The natural human inertia is ‘Oh, I can add this, I can also add that.’ But more equals more complex. Anywhere where you are reducing, you’re making it simpler. And wherever you reduce and make something simpler, you can go faster.”

Using simplicity to propel your business.

The great sculptor Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set it free.”

The same is true for your business. The “angels” are there to be found. The best words are buried in your brochures. Your processes can be streamlined. Dump those bloated features, and your users will get a better experience. Tighten your market focus to distinguish your brand and drive up sales.

Your employees, partners and customers are already surrounded with too much complexity. They don’t need more.

So make everything simpler.

Start asking yourself and your people to subtract, rather than add.

Stick Man!


Learn about the author, Daniel Heimlich.