Tag Archives: Complexity

The simplicity on either side of complexity

When you first start to think about a tough problem, it seems very simple. You have yet to discover what you don’t know, and thinking that you know all that’s to be known tempts you to arrive at an immediate simple solution. This is the simplicity before the complexity.

While this solution might be correct, if this is the case, it’s just because you got lucky. Any tough problem worth its salt doesn’t have an immediate solution.

Instead, it requires that you wade deep into the problem to discover its inherent complexity before eventually isolating the few elements that truly matter and emerging with clarity on the other side. This is easier said than done.

Once you’ve done this, you once again arrive at a simple solution. But this time you’ve discovered and addressed what you don’t know. Your solution is not only simple but also deeply researched and thought out. This makes it much more likely to be correct for reasons other than luck. This is simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Conventional wisdom is that this simplicity on the other side of complexity is more valuable than the simplicity before the complexity. And if you’re an individual trying to see something for what it really is, this is indeed the case.¬†However, this isn’t necessarily true for groups of people.

The problem arises because seeing something for what it really is requires wading deep into the problem. And although you may be willing to do this as an individual, sometimes individual action isn’t enough. Sometimes you need a group’s collective action. And others in the group may be less willing to wade through the problem. Others may just want to see the simplicity before the complexity. Although this may not reflect what really is, it requires no effort. And a lack of effort appeals to our comfort-seeking nature as humans.

In other words, there are times when groups of people trade away what really is for comfort.

When this is the case, trying to show people the simplicity on the other side of complexity doesn’t get you far. People don’t want to see what really is. They want comfort.

Since you need collective action to progress, and since people aren’t willing to wade sufficiently deep into the problem to reach the simplicity on the other side of complexity, you need to give them the simplicity before the complexity. It may not be what really is, but it aligns with what people want to believe is. And this is what’s necessary for them to act.

Part of the simplicity on the other side of complexity is knowing when to use the simplicity before the complexity.