Sometimes the answer is so obvious. We fret and worry about a problem…create complicated scenarios to solve it…and yet the answer is so simple.
Case in point: I write my blogs on my iPad. There’s something about the touch of my Logitech keyboard that I just love, and the size of the screen and keyboard somehow make the process very approachable and almost “cozy” to me. It’s weird, but it’s my thing—kind of like when I need just the right pen or pencil to write a note with. Anyway, I digress…
In recent days, my keyboard has been very erratic—sometimes it would work, and then mid-word or sentence, it would suddenly stop working and the annoying keyboard on the screen would pop up. I kept turning the iPad on and off and reattaching the iPad to the keyboard, but it didn’t solve the problem. I feared the worst—either a dreaded system problem or my beloved keyboard was on its way out. Either way, I was imagining the multiple steps and the time and effort that would be required to fix the problem. On a whim, though, I again separated the iPad from the keyboard. But this time, I wiped down the iPad’s contact points that connect the screen to the keyboard…and problem solved! So simple.
My iPad keyboard is about as small a problem as there is, especially in light of all that is going on in our world today. But simple solutions exist all around us, as do examples of overcomplication. Needless to say, there are a zillion examples of government bureaucracies that exemplify what I will call “excess-ivity.”
When my kids were young, I was horrified when they told me that they were learning about drugs in health class. They received a detailed glossary of every street drug and what it did to your body—speed it up…calm it down…etc. Why on earth do children need to be tempted with a list of how they can self-medicate when all they really need to know is that self-medicating with drugs is dangerous and they should avoid it at all costs? Given the high incidence of drug use among young people, clearly the excessively detailed drug-education strategy is not working.
Through the years, there have been many times when a project or a report that should have been quite simple and straightforward took weeks to complete due to excessive dialog and overengineering by one individual or another. I don’t need daily counts when weekly will do…or 10 columns of numbers when I need just two. Even more frustrating to me are the lengthy e-mail trails when a simple five-minute phone call would answer the question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to someone, “Just call them.”
Excessiv-ity has even become de rigueur for all things wedding-related. My husband proposed to me during our nightly dog walk. But today, proposals require props, locations and hidden photographers to capture the moment when the family-in-hiding engulfs the happy couple with congratulations, sometimes before the bride-to-be even has her engagement ring fully on her finger. Brides and grooms now have to buy gifts and choreograph the simple task of asking the members of their wedding parties to participate. What about just calling your best friends and saying, “You are very special to me, and I would be honored if you would please be one of my bridesmaids/groomsmen”? Simple…heartfelt…and easy to execute, rather than getting stopped in your tracks trying to find just the right tchotchke at the right price. In the end, all that excessive complication detracts from the simple act of love.
Why do we look for complex when simple can provide a far more elegant solution? Why hide the beautiful pure elements of life behind layers of process and decoration?
There’s a concept called “complexity bias” that talks about the human tendency to believe that things that are more complex must be better and more sophisticated. Kind of like bigger is better but with a twist.
To me, there’s another dimension that cycles through it—the human desire to excel…to do great…to be noticed and acknowledged for excellence. In grade school, it was complexity bias that made some of us shrivel when that one kid brought in a diorama with twinkling lights and moving parts while yours just had lumps of clay depicting life in the Industrial Age. And as adults, we fear that if the solution is so simple, then we must be doing it wrong…that the more steps in a recipe, the better it will taste. Sure, there are three-ingredient feasts, but those are thought of as “cheater recipes.”
Oddly, this is not a new phenomenon. Approximately 2,500 years ago, Confucius said that “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Life is indeed complicated, especially these days. So why make things harder than they need to be? I agree that details matter…in many cases. But don’t be a victim to the people and the details that distract or detract from your goal. And don’t allow yourself to be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of those who choose to overcomplicate.
Enjoy and appreciate simplicity where and when you can apply it in your life.
Let’s learn from Confucius and KISS (keep it simple stupid) gratuitous complexity good-bye.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.