The curse of simplicity

When I share my perspective on simplicity, I try to give examples of how I or others have been able to embrace complexity and turn it into something simpler.

Regularly, people respond with a counter-argument: « I wish I could do that, but in my case, it’s not possible, because of X and Y constraints. »

How to respond to that counter-argument?

Well, the constraints X and Y are the complexity you should address. They are not preventing you to do the simplification work, they are the simplification work. If those constraints were not there, you wouldn’t need to put any effort, you could just enjoy the peaceful contemplation of something simple.

At first glance, people asking that question could give the impression that they are just refusing the obstacle. They see hard work ahead, and they look for a shortcut. « How can I get the same result without too much effort? »

But that superficial impression is ignoring a deep characteristic of simplicity, which Ken Segall calls the curse of simplicity. « What looks effortless requires hard work. That’s the curse of simplicity – it looks deceptively simple. »

When you look at something truly simple, it feels natural. It feels obvious, effortless. It’s even hard to imagine how else could this thing be. By definition, it has digested all the complexity, so it’s impossible to see that complexity anymore. Everyone can only see the outcome of the work, whose precise purpose is to erase any sign of work. It’s hard to imagine what you can’t see. It’s hard to imagine how much complexity was tackled by looking at something simple.

People compared their complex situation with a situation of resolved complexity, and think the two situations are of different nature. They are not. They are the same kind of situations, at different states of progress.

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