Count me in for Simplicity

  • September 12, 2011
  • Scott

There’s an argument that says the world is too complex for humans to understand.  Further, that by thinking we understand cause-and-effect, we’re doomed to act in ways that have unforeseen (usually negative) consequences.  It is a really interesting debate, and informative on the more than two sides represented.

Personally, I found myself rejecting this notion as useful.  Not that the notion of complexity isn’t useful – but letting it paralyze you is not useful.  When it comes to running your business, simplicity is more powerful than complexity.  A combination of relatively simple interactions has more power than a complex single interaction.  Simple interactions are more replicable, more scalable. I would focus more on enabling “emergence” than disabling decision-making by leaders.

Simplicity and abstraction go hand-in-hand.  The iPad has a significant amount of complexity baked in – from the hardware, to the software, to the production processes that lead to its creation, to the design processes that lead to its conception.  But to me, it is just a glossy glass enclosure that responds to my touch.

Does my touch cause the apps to do what they do?  Actually, it doesn’t matter whether touch is causal or not – it is, at minimum, so highly correlated between action and reaction that it feels like causation.

And that’s what we should be striving for in our businesses – that our actions would achieve the results we’re looking for – will feel like causation – though there may be a complex choreography and it may not be driven top-down.

There was a truly fantastic quote in the original HBR article:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and
don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless
immensity of the sea.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Sometimes simple is best.



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  • Scott, you are on the right track.  There is simplicity, and there is over-simplification.  A micro manager is one who believe they understand the full extend of a situation, makes all the decisions, and issues overly detailed instructions.  This is over simplification of the situation.  However, a wise manager will realize that there exists complexity, and rather than predetermining all the  decisions up front, will issue clear but high level goals, and rely on the person doing the tasks to fill in the details at the right time.  The wise manager knows that reality can not addressed with predefined steps, but instead knows that they can still guide an intelligent worker with some relatively simple goals.

    • Right – it is getting the “right level” of abstraction or simplicity that seems to be the trick 🙂