Why Isn’t Everything As Simple As It Could Be Yet

You’ve probably heard expressions such as keep it simple stupid (KISS). It might intuitively sound like a good idea to keep things simple. But sometimes it’s as if our nature is not naturally inclined towards creating simple things. Why would there otherwise be so many messes in the world that are obviously more complex than they would need to be?

Let’s be semi-scientific here and use our creativity to come up with a few conjectures to explain this. Then we can examine them one by one.

  1. Doing things in a simple way is harder than doing it in a complicated way. Because it requires a deeper understanding of something to know what is redundant and what can be removed while keeping the essence of the thing.
  2. In certain contexts there might be incentives to make things more complicated than necessary. If you want to come off as smart, you may succeed sometimes if you make things too complicated for people to understand it. Some people can see through this though, when they are aware of #1 above.

I think these two can explain a lot of complexity in the world. As with any scientific process, these two conjectures should answer yes  to these two questions: 1) is it falsifiable? 2) is it a good explanation (i.e. cannot parts of it be replaced while still yielding the same results?) I’ll let the reader be the judge of that. I do believe that both of these pass these questions, so I will proceed. Let me know in the comments if you disagree and why.

We do have one potential problem though. These are two different conjectures trying to explain the same thing. Can they be true at the same time? I would say yes. Can someone be unknowledgeable enough about a subject to not be able to make it simple? Sure. Can they at the same time use this complexity to try to seem smart? Sure. Let’s invert it. Can someone be knowledgeable enough about a subject and make it simple? Yes. Can that same person choose to make it more or less complicated to seem smart or not? Yes. So it turns out that isn’t a problem after all.

Therefore we have two potential roots to complexity. Lack of knowledge and incentives to over complicate. In life or in an organization. How do we combat these?

Lack of knowledge can likely be combated by first principles learning and practice in the subject with the explicit intention to simplify.

Incentives to complicate can be combated by not praising complexity, only praise simplicity. Always challenge complex solutions. Create a culture and context where simplicity is the highest value. This should have a possibility of reducing the incentives to make things more complex than necessary. Unfortunately this goes against human intuition and we are biased against simple solutions. So this will take active work to achieve, at least initially.

Based on the above reasoning, these two simple approaches should be effective at reducing complexity in whatever you do. Increase knowledge and ability to think from first principles in the subject, and don’t praise complexity, praise only simplicity.

One response to “Why Isn’t Everything As Simple As It Could Be Yet”

  1. […] a previous post I talked about how to simplify things. But to convince ourselves to do this we need to understand whether it is beneficial or not. What […]

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