Simplicity: the Herculean Task

Lance Discipline, Simplicity Leave a Comment

But the hydra wound itself about one of his feet and clung to him. Nor could he effect anything by smashing its heads with his club, for as fast as one head was smashed there grew up two.

simplicityadIt’s easy to buy into the idea of Simplicity, what with the likes of Steve Jobs and anyone associated with him preaching its gospel. The secret sauce to Apple’s success isn’t a secret at all — they’ve been telling anyone who would listen since the beginning:

Of course, there’s a world of difference between nodding one’s head in agreement at the obvious wisdom of using Simplicity like Apple and actually slaying the hydra of Complexity. The ever-present default of over-complicating things is the Second Law of Thermodynamics applied to organizations:

  • Try to apply Simplicity as merely a tactic, you end up with more complexity
  • Try to build a process for simplifying your business, you end up with more complexity
  • Try to do Simplicity on the cheap, you end up with more complexity
  • Try to do Simplicity with minimal effort, you end up with more complexity

Take it from Steve Jobs himself:

When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.

Or from Ken Segall himself (he’s the guy who put the “i” in the “iMac” … and everything else that then followed):

Complexity is far too clever to allow a company to attain Simplicity through proclamation. If the love of Simplicity isn’t instilled into its people and burned into its products, if people aren’t rewarded for acts of bravery in support of Simplicity, the concept will come and go like Human Resources’ annual benefits meeting. … Simplicity is an all-or-nothing proposition. If the company’s culture doesn’t support this type of behavior, it will never be more than window dressing.

Anyone can make the simple look complicated. Sadly, too many do just that, thinking complex solutions or answers are a sign of intelligence. (They’re not.) And just as it took both brains and braun for Hercules to defeat the hydra, it takes real genius and courage to make the complex appear and feel simple.

Simplicity needs a hero.