In search of simplicity

Leonardo Da Vinci said "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication", a truth that has been a repeated theme for me in the last week.  Here are some examples:

At our recent marketing department offsite I was utterly appalled by the lack of clarity and simplicity in the way we communicate - and these are marketers! the supposed experts in the art.  I kept my thoughts to myself by writing down every bombastic and vacuous phrase and keeping a tally.  If you are bored in a long meeting, I recommend it as a survival strategy because it also serves to make you listen when you'd rather switch off by at least keeping you amused.

At the end of the offsite we had to come up with groovy new ideas and pitch them to a dragon's den style intimidating panel.  There was real money on offer for ideas and predictably everyone seemed to pitch ludicrously complex propositions.  Our team had first attempted to boil the oceanic problem of flexible working however later struck simplicity gold with the idea of adding stickers to new PCs to remind customers to ask for Microsoft Office (something consumers often forget and only remember when it's too late). It brought home to me just how important a single, simple idea is to an effective presentation.  It was cheeky but I couldn't resist a parody using as many of the buzz phrases I'd collected as possible - I ad-libbed the whole thing but it was along these lines:

"Hello well our focus is as part of the UK team engaging in an ongoing dialogue to make it real for customers.  Through SMART thinking we've been able to extend our benchmarking framework to drive for results and set bold aspirational goals.  Through the magic of software we want to be SUCK-sessful and continue on a journey towards web 2.010, adding integrated insight and doing deep dive and drill down on the optimisation of our process.  As individuals feedback on our quantitative parameters, it's been a learning experience and as we harness the data we've truly been able to create the culture of growth needed to fully monetise our assets of relevance, utility and entertainment.  So boiling it all down, at the end of the day.. what I want is 20 grand for stickers."

What was really sobering though was how quickly the idea got complicated - what about the legal ramifications of this? what is the exact wording on the sticker?  which agency would we pay vast sums to in order to design it?  and the best question - where would I stick it? to which several answers came to mind.

The point is, I am a devoted seeker of simplicity now. Simple not simplistic or overly reductionist but clean, focused and incisive.  In some ways this is heart of the problem IT is trying to affect. How to manage vast amounts of information and complexity and make it simple enough to work with.

I'm convinced if you can't express your whole business plan on one simple diagram, it's too complex to execute.

feynman Isn't it true that it's the smartest people, the ones who deeply understand a subject are the ones who can express it simply?  Richard Feynman was always a bit of a hero of mine for this reason.  The Feynman lectures apart from teaching me a lot of Physics, are a remarkable example of a genius making a complex subject simple. It also makes me wary of people who claim to be experts but seem to revel in making things seems complex.  Either they really are very clever but just don't want me to understand it or more likely they aren't as clever as they'd like to think they are.

I could go on (and will in future posts I'm sure) but I challenge you to consider - what are you overcomplicating this week? Might it be because you haven't invested enough thought in it?  If so, its a false time economy, better to properly get your head round it and make it simpler - it will save you time in the long run.

Comments (4)

  1. Dan says:

    Hear hear!  I hate it when things grow arms and legs unnecessarily.  This reminds me of one of my favourite diagrams describing the developement process, but equally applies to other types of projects:

  2. Bez Berry says:

    It was a smashing presentation Mr Strange. Very enjoyable and a very neat idea.

  3. I’ve decided to blog smaller items a bit more often as they occur to me so here’s a question I answered

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