We sure tend to make life complicated.

“Simplify, simplify” is one of the most famous sentences from Thoreau’s Walden, but we just can’t seem to get the message – in life, in business, with family, with friends.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the business world of customer surveys. Cascades of questions where answers simply lead to more questions, rendering such surveys intimidating at best and frightening at worst. Yes, I would like to tell you what I thought of the food in your restaurant, but not if I have to make my way through countless interrogations, which may tell you what you want to know but too often ignore what I want say. And yes, I want to tell you about the comfort of the hotel bed, the attitude of the flight attendant, or the acoustics at the concert; but there must be a simpler way.

Hospitals and health plans are the biggest culprits of all. For too long we have been seduced by planners, researchers, data crunchers and analysts who make us believe that life is more complicated than it needs to be. We keep looking for that elusive Easter egg when in fact there is gold right before our eyes. It is time to bring the curtain down on such nonsense and say “enough” to all those who would mortgage meaning for metrics. Here’s my suggestion for hospitals (or for any business for that matter); let’s have a two-question questionnaire:

Would you recommend this hospital to a family member or friend?

If not, why not?

Is there anything else you really need to know? Isn’t a recommendation the ultimate compliment and the ultimate way a former patient can say “thank you.” Wouldn’t repeated comments regarding food, cleanliness, noise and courtesies provide all the fodder you need for service-line improvement?  And wouldn’t creating such a simple survey significantly boost the percent of patient participation, thus making the findings more statistically and qualitatively valid than ever?

Two is all you need. You could carry the survey in your breast pocket and get on with solving other parts of life’s great mysteries.