Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Simplicity; the all-too-common target we normally miss

'Beauty in Simplicity' by Clay Carson
under a CC license
Can you recall the safety demonstration that is performed just before take off in every flight? It is basically about just 4 things (seat belts, oxygen masks, life jackets, emergency exits and route to them). That simple. The bare minimum information that can save lives in case of emergency within a plane, which, by the way, is a very complex machine.

I like simplicity. Most people do so, I believe. But I'm used to things around me being complex and requiring handling of a certain complexity. 

In some cases, simplicity may be a matter of taste. For instance, minimalist architecture, minimalist design and minimalism, in general. Then, it may be a matter of function or usability. For example, the one-button mouse that Apple introduced or the bare interface of GNOME or Xfce, the operation of Microsoft Kinect and so on. And, of course, we have simplicity in processes and procedures (administrative procedures included), with the one-stop-shops and lean manufacturing or lean management concepts as examples.

To me, the latter is of utmost importance. Simplicity is the approach that saves resources, helps transparency, facilitates participation, minimises mistakes, encourages standardisation, etc. For instance, could you imagine referendums with complex what-if sort of questions? I hope not. That level of simplicity should be a target for most processes and procedures around us. The tax forms, the procedures for establishing businesses, the formalities of communication across public or private organisations, the procedures for public consultation, etc.

Of course, many will argue that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't really work in all aspects of life. True. But I believe that the challenge is to apply simple models on small groups of applications in a coherent way rather than trying to use a single process for all applications. However that is no small feat. Mistakes will be made, corrective actions will need to be taken and a new 'simplifying' circle will need to start. And there lies the hidden challenge: frequent changes cause confusion, regardless if each new approach is a simple one.

Simplicity (and clarity) is a thing that we could certainly use more of. At the collective level, it could allow things to function better and at a lower cost. It would cut down red tape and limit confusion. At a more personal level, simplicity has the potential to make our lives better and give us the chance to focus more on things that matter, undistracted from clutter, regardless of those 'things' being people, causes or creations of any kind.

So, once more, is there a limit to simplicity? Most likely yes. But we have still plenty till we hit that.

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