The Complexity of Simplicity

In some of the many jobs I’ve done in my life, I found the most difficulty dealing with the response of, “That’s simple.” This statement was usually closely followed by a thoughtless assessment of how quickly it could get done/finished.

I know the truth.

Simple is never simple. Simple takes a long time to perfect. Okay, not perfect, but to make easy to do, see, explain. Simple is never simple.

Why not?

Because if something is difficult or complex, a person sits down to do some work, they expect to have to delve deep into the research and plans and structures to find a way to get it done – properly.

If they think it’s simple, they leave it until the last minute (or few minutes/hours, or a day) and then discover there is quite a lot of work involved in the thing that appears simple on the surface.

Simple is never easy, it’s never fast, it’s never quick. It looks simple, but that’s like life. A good marriage may look easy, but is it?

How about a nice garden?

Or living in an uncluttered house?

Simple has so much subtext, that it should have a ‘Danger’ sign attached to it every time it’s used.

The next time someone says it, question the level of complexity as if it were the answer to ‘why’ that everyone finds at some stage.

Why isn’t simple simple?

Why is there subtext to everything?

Consider how we respond to the people close to us. They ask a question, but do we answer the question they ask, or do we analyse why it was asked, discover some sort of possible reason, and respond to our assessment rather than the question?

Don’t lie! Or if you think you’re not fibbing, really listen or analyse the next conversation you have with someone who asks you a question. Truly listen, even if it’s after the event.

“Wanna go to the beach?”

Analyse: Can I use this to get out of the work I/we should be doing around the house? Is it to get take-away on the way back? Is it to save money on air-con? Is it to make up after an argument?

“No, I need to [do this], but you go.” – an attempt at martyrdom, usually done to change the destination, or [some other agenda item].

Analyse: Laziness, too hot to get there, don’t want to waste money (this from the person who doesn’t cook, most likely), what argument? Finally, how can I use this to my advantage/get out of something else?

Or the work situation where the boss says, “I need that final piece of code tomorrow morning for the test bed.”

Analyse: the 80/20 rule. “Okay, I’ll finalise that before I leave today.” Read, assess, start – panic! “This isn’t what I expected! This will take all night.” and sure enough, when the sun rises, the job isn’t done, the manic look is in, sleepless and coffee create a caricature of a human being, and the simple bit of code isn’t complete …

Finding the simplest way to do something takes more effort than anything assessed as difficult or complex. We dismiss the concept of simple, somehow aligning simple with easy, but the truth will bite you, so beware the use of ‘simple’ or ‘that won’t take any effort, I’ll leave it until after I’ve done [the hard stuff].’

Can you see my face? The look of disbelief? That’s the look that comes from a lifetime of experience with the dichotomy of Simple to Complex.

Where did this little bit of brain-surge come from?

Rory, but I couldn’t reblog his Random Quote, so you should read it for yourself.

What does it all mean?

— * * * Yes, still editing, but I have a cover and a blurb, and the final straight is just around that bend …

9 thoughts on “The Complexity of Simplicity

  1. I’ve noticed that instructions on how to do something online often leave out a crucial step or two because–hey, it’s simple. You just…1, 2, 3, done! Except for steps 1.1 and 2.1, which are absolutely necessary. When I wrote out procedures for others to use, I would write them while doing the steps myself, including every little detail. Whereupon reading the instructions made it seem complicated, but actually following them as written was simple.

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    • I also liked to watch what and how people who didn’t know the thing did it, either by instinct or by oral instructions. Enlightening. People do not always respond or react how the creator of the product expects. It’s fun, sometimes, but the process of making something simple and easy is anything but.

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  2. Brilliantly done Cage 🙂
    I have come to the conclusion that the simplest things in life, are never simple until you fully understand the wheres and hows into how that defining simplicity was achieved in the first place.

    A loose example and of course there are many – people used to say to me in a game l used to play online and made millions from ‘”It must be simple, because you make it look simple! Therefore anyone can do what you are doing!!”
    They would try and fail. Why? Because simple is never simple until you know through trial and error what made it simple …. for you. Once you have discovered the ‘simple’ method you can achieve a lot, but that’s only because you have done the hard work, the trials, the experiments, you have cried, tried, spilled blood and sweat to make what you are doing now ‘simple’ for you.

    The hardest thing is sometimes to teach your simplistic method to others so that they too can then say ‘this is simple – for them.

    Great post Cage, and many thanks – glad it kicked off the simple in you – that just reads wrong 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was a process analyst in a former life and I can attest that finding the simplest way of accomplishing a task often takes a lot of thought and analysis. You also have to content with those who like a complicate a process.

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