Posts tagged ‘Simplicity’

Simplify the Communication, Not the Architecture

Have you encountered this also in your daily interactions with others? I mean the allmost automatic or intuitive Human reaction to complex problems is that they most of the time try to simplify complex cases by stripping things.  Things that might at first hindsight be non-essential but at second hindsight are very essential.

Suppose you present a complex picture like the exploded view of the motor shown in the picture, the standard reaction can be to leave out details so people can have a better overview. This is where it can go wrong. If people (not you and me but all the others ofcourse) abstract complex things without knowing the essentials of the complexity, they might make the wrong (or sometimes even desastrous) decision. So the key to abstraction is that you translate a certain given complexity to a simpler viewpoint WITHOUT leaving out the essential aspects. In the example case, the abstracted picture could be a motorcycle where the exploded view of the motor is now merely an integral part of the total concept. But the details inside are still essential. And thus you cannot leave them out. Even if you think they are too complex or too costly or whatever.

I think Einstein got it right when he stated: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.  Map this to the exploded view of the engine and you know what I mean. So we should keep the complexity, not fight it, but abstract it only on communication level, not on architectural level! And that’s where communication skills can come in handy: if you can’t explain it to your grandmother or to your children, you should abstract your viewpoints, but not the architectural essentials! Leave the multi-layer approach (figure inspired by a Wikipedia article) intact! Happy decomplexing!

How Einstein and Mummy Are Related and How You Can Use This To Your Benefit

Einstein once said: everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. He was very right. If you take a look at some of the “systems” society has created, they have a tendency to become increasingly complex. In some cases this is oke, if the system under consideration is highly accepted, used and promoted. For example the Internet. But in other cases, we have built upon base systems and added complexity on top by layering. It’s as if we didn’t want to take proper time for redesign. By hiding the details (creating intransparancy) we were able to prevent true redesign. Now these type of systems, that have what I call redundant complexity could maybe better be unwrapped to find out there original, true intention or meaning again. And then redevelop from these new insights again. That way, we would at least limit the total complexity. For example the world’s financial system might be a good candidate given the crises it has put us all in. Or the availabilty of hundreds of thousands of “standards”, sometimes developed with so much complexity that it thereby hinders a true level playing field. Or systems that are designed with abundant features where a good is good enough design would have been sufficient. So for these types of systems, a “let’s unwrap first before adding an extra wrap around this mummy” mightbe just the right approach, honoring Einstein. Source of the mummy figure is here.

A Few Simple Principles That Help You Handle Complexity

We all know that planning fails when the complexity of the problem exceeds the capacity of the planners to reason about it. So the natural tendency is to fight the complexity so we don’t have to deal with it. This tendency is sometimes induced by fear: fear of not being able to oversee or handle the complexity. This fear has leds us to develop techniques that are commonly used to fight complexity. Think of techniques such as Isolation, Separation, Centralisation and Integration. And we are accustomed to use these techniques both in organizational design patterns (social complexity) as well as in technological design patterns (technological complexity). Isolation is a technique often seen in projects. We isolate the problem as much as possible so we don’t have to deal with complexity of the “whole”. This is one the reasons many projects fail. We use separation techniques when we organize something into domains or hierarchies. This is in fact a variant of Isolation. By separating into domains, departments, groups, teams, disciplines etc. we hope to have distributed the total complexity. We all know that in practice this leads to suboptimization. And then there is centralisation. By centralizing things they have to become standardized more or less. This is the payoff we need to get rid of the distributed complexity that was there before the centralisation. But we didn’t really reduce the total complexity with this technique. We just distributed it in another way. The total complexity is still there and pops out now in other areas. And finally, there is integration. We leave things as they are and fight the (coordination) complexity with integration techniques. This leads however to another type of distribution of complexity: we moved it into the integration domain. But it is still there.  Now let’s take a look at examples where highly complex “systems” are handled without any major problems. Inspired by nature we see that a flock of birds is self organizing around a few very simple principles. 1: All birds must know the same principles. 2: a bird must control the distance to it’s direct neighbors (not too close, not to far). 3: a bird must match it’s own speed with that of it’s direct neighbors.  So by having a few very simple principles, you can make an endlessly huge (or small) flock of birds act all in the same way. You can let them follow any goal or direction. (only one leader who gives the direction would be sufficient).  These principles of nature have more or less been copied into the design of the Internet. It operates autonomously. Compared to the flock of birds principes you could say: 1: All routers must know the same routing algorithm. 2: All routers must be able to calculate the distance to their direct neighboring routers, more isn’t needed. 3: All routers must know how many hops to make to get a message to the endpoint. You can find more on the Internet design in network topologies designed by Paul Baran†

Now what would happen if we organized work that needs synergy according to similar principles? Let’s give it a try: Principle 1: All workers must know the shared principles (we must therefore have a shared language, that’s one of the most crucial things to centralize!). 2: All workers must know the direction their direct neighbors wants to go to (nothing more, nothing less, so if you design this clever, you also solve information overload or information underload). 3: All workers must know the innovation or change speed of their direct neighbors. That’s about it. No more control needed (at least, theoretically). Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Maybe it is just that simple. Or to quote K.A. Richardson: “Each element in the system is ignorant of the behavior of the system as a whole (this implies we have to trust each other that the total job gets done partly by others).  […] If each element ‘knew’ what was happening to the system as a whole, all of the complexity would have to be present in that element” (this implies workers do not need to know the total complexity but only that of their direct neighboorhood).  Now how does this match to architecture deisgn? I promote that architects design distributed architectures where possible because that makes the total architecture a lot simpler. And only centralize parts for which no good alternative exists. This approach would prevent that we have to fall back on other techniques like isolation, separation, centralisation. Good luck if you want to experiment with it! Please let me know if it worked for you!

Making Complicated Things Simple: New Ideas To Further Develop

Our society is getting more complicated ( “ingewikkeld” in Dutch, as the picture to the left shows) by the day. And yet, we still are looking for ways to simplify things while the total complexitywill certainly not diminish. So we need to accept total complexity as a given and find clever ways to handle it. That is where abstraction comes in as one of the possible tools. It’s a favourite tool used by architects and designers. With abstraction you just hide certain complexity by abstracting it and putting a (virtual) box, domain, layer or whatever you want to call it, around it. Take the PC as an example: a highly complex device, both HW- and SW-wise but the dirty details have been cleverly hidden by it’s designers. So an average user does not need to bother with the internal complexity anymore. He or she can start adding extra new complexity on top of it. But abstracting also has drawbacks: we can loose oversight because we don’t understand the inner working of our black-boxes anymore. If they work, they work oke, but if they fail, we are in trouble.  People who really understand what is happening inside these insane HW/SW ecosystems, accessed by black boxes we call PC’s are getting more and more scarce. And then there is society itself, societal complexity or the way we all interact. It is not so simple to abstract complex social interactions. So maybe in this domain, chaos science can help us a little. Consider The Emergence Principle in the splendid article Living on the Edge: “capable of rising to increasingly higher levels of complexity and order all by themselves“. Sounds like a possible (scientific) solution to handle societal complexity questions. But will it also work in our day-to-day life? The mummy picture originated here.

Inspirational Thoughts of Great and Good Thinkers, Thought Leaders, Trendwatchers, Futurists and Others Combined

There are a lot of great thinkers out there. You can tell by reading their books, studying their theories, looking at the articles they publish, seeing how their viewpoints find their way into our world etc. I wonder what would happen if one could combine, integrate or otherwise bring together the expressions and thoughts from these Great Thinkers, Thought Leaders, Trendwatchers, Futurists, Authors, Humanists, Rationalists, Satirists, Moralists, Essayists, Masters, Inspirators (just to name a few “categories”)? Here’s a trial overview with in alfabetical order their names, and in between brackets the statements, thoughts, expressions or ideas which for several reasons personally inspired me to combine them into this list. They represent thoughts or values or ideas or concepts I personally believe in very much. Ofcourse this list will never be complete, please feel free to tip me for additions. If time allows, maybe I’ll combine this list into some kind of integrated mindmap or other oversight viewpoint. This post is updated each time I find a new statement I think should be added to the list.

  • Maya Angelou (1: I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel; 2: The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart; 3: If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities; 4: Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option)
  • Jurgen Appelo (Agile Management, Management 3.0)
  • Aristoteles (Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom)
  • Chris Argyris (Defensive Routines, Double Loop Learning)
  • William Rosh Ashby (The Law of Requisite Variety, The Darkness Principle)
  • Martijn Aslander (Easycratie)
  • Paul Baran† (Internet pioneer, mesh-designing the Internet with distributed topology style)
  • Stafford Beer (Designing Freedom, Cybernetics)
  • Edward de Bono (There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns)
  • Charles Brower (Most people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions)
  • Winston Churchill (The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty)
  • Paulo Coelho (People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves)
  • Leonard Cohen (Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in)
  • Stephen Covey (The way we see the problem is the problem, 7 habits)
  • Johan Cruyff (Je gaat het pas zien als je het door hebt – You won’t start seeing it before you understand it)
  • W Edwards Deming (No one can enjoy learning if he must constantly be concerned about being graded for his performance)
  • Steve Denning (The most important story is not the one we tell, it is the one we generate in the mind of the listener)
  • Peter Drucker (Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast)
  • Eric Duquette (Do not allow yourself or others to be defined by your limitations, but rather, abilities)
  • Albert Einstein (1: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler; 2: We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them, 3: The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant; 4: Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities.  The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary; Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere)
  • Doug Floyd (You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note)
  • Benjamin Franklin (Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn)
  • Gabor (If you want to achieve greatness stop asking for permission)
  • Galileo Galilei (You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself)
  • Luc Galoppin (If you can’t explain it to your grandmother, forget it!)
  • Mahatma Gandhi (1: You must be the change you want to see in the world; 2: Freedom isn’t worth having if it doesn’t include the freedom to make mistakes)
  • Antoni Gaudi (But man does not create…he discovers)
  • William Gibson (The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet)
  • Seth Godin (1: Small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big. Don’t wait. Get small. Think big, 2:I wanna be the guy who fails the most)
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister)
  • Erving Goffman (Interaction Rituals)
  • Dany Gokey (Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity)
  • Josephine Green (Pancake Society)
  • Garrett Hardin (Tragedy of the Commons)
  • Samuel Ichiye Hawakaya (Ladder of Abstraction)
  • Dee Hock (The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.)
  • Eric Hoffer (Creativity is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of nature)
  • Grace Hopper (It’s always been done that way)
  • Victor Hugo (to love beauty is to see light)
  • David K. Hurst (Renewal requires destruction)
  • Steve Jobs (The art of leaving things out)
  • Joseph Joubert (Never cut what you can untie, the mind can tell us what not to do or avoid, the heart can tell us what to do)
  • Helen Keller (Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows)
  • Kevin Kelly (Make customers as smart as you are, Connect customer to customers, All things being equal choose technology that connects, Imagine your customers as employees)
  • John F. Kennedy (we go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s difficult)
  • Thomas Kuhn (Ladder of Inference, You don’t see something until you have the right metafor to let you perceive it)
  • Dalai Lama ( 1: If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito; 2: Don’t try to invent everything yourself, you just don’t have the time for it; 3: Strive for modesty but it’s ok if it can’t be reached)
  • Niccolo Machiavelli (1: I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it, 2: It is much more secure to be feared than to be loved’3: Since it is difficult to join them together, it is safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking; 4: There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things)
  • William L. McKnight (If you put fences around people, you get sheep)
  • Margaret Mead (Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has)
  • Robert Metcalfe (the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system)
  • Geoffrey O. Moore (Dealing with Darwin, Universe of Innovation Types)
  • Willie Nelson (Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results)
  • Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (Give me courage to change things which must be changed;And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other)
  • Joseph Chilton Pearce (To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong)
  • Laurence J. Peter (The Peter Principle, “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”)
  • Jaap Peters (Het Rijnland Boekje)
  • Katasai Rakshasa (Those who fear the darkness have no idea what the light can do)
  • Joshua Cooper Ramo (Conformity to old ideas is lethal; it is rebellion that is going to change the planet)
  • Ayn Rand (The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me)
  • Kurt A. Richardson (If each element ‘knew’ what was happening to the system as a whole, all of the complexity would have to be present in that element)
  • Jeremy Rifkin (Third Industrial Revolution and the 5 pillars that will support it’s success)
  • Will Rogers (If Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt (The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams)
  • Jim Rohn (Unless you change how you are, you will always have what you’ve got)
  • Betrand Russel (To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom)
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it)
  • Adi Da Samray (Relax. Nothing is under control.)
  • John Scully (The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious)
  • Peter Senge (Learning Organization)
  • George Bernard Shaw (1: Lack of money is the root of all evil, 2: You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?” 3:Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything)
  • Clay Shirki (Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution)
  • Herbert Simon (Bounded Rationality)
  • Simon Sinek? (Real collaboration is when the idea can no longer be traced to one person. It is legitimately ours.)
  • Ulbo De Sitter (founder of the sociotechnique in the Netherlands: “complex tasks in a simple organization instead of simple tasks in a complex organization”)
  • Dave Snowden (Cynefin Sensemaking Framework)
  • Henry David Thoreau (It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know)
  • Mark Twain (Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain)
  • Lao-Tzu (Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge)
  • Leonardo da Vinci (Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication)
  • Voltaire (Common Sense is not so Common)
  • Mathieu Weggeman (The faster you get smarter, the sooner you will be dumber)
  • Margaret Wheatley (It’s lonely to be in the future… first)
  • Stuart Wilde (Everything is out there waiting for you. All you have to do is walk up and declare yourself in. No need for permission. You just need courage to say, “Include me”. Providing you have the energy to pull it off you can do what you like. And the Universal Law, being impartial, will be only too delighted to deliver.)
  • Frank Zappa (Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible)

Finally, Albert Einstein once quoted: great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds. Given this quote, I sincerely hope this post will be read by others (be it great spirits/visionairs just like the ones listed here or anybody else) so that an even more combined vision can be created together with all of you who read this and like to extend the list.

Making Complex Things Simple by Making Simple Things Complex

We tend to make complex things simple by astracting (hiding!) the complexity into an area where we can easily “forget” about it so we can concentrate on the things we call our core competences. This however can often lead to popping up new or unforeseen complexity in other areas. So when you start abstracting a certain complexity never forget to investigate where the new complexity will pop up and how you’re going to handle that new redistribution of complexity. A typical example is outsourcing: by abstracting the complexity of let’s say commodity ICT technologies, you are distributing that complexity to other parties. But inevitably you will have to compensate for that “simplification” strategy by organizing something new, in this case: managing the party that you have given part of your controller functionality. It’s all in Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety: your own “complexity” as a “controller” must match the complexity of the system you want to control. Take the simple example of a traffic light: it has 3 states (Red, Orange, Green). You as a car driver heading towards the traffic light system are in this example the “controller”. As a controller you must understand the complexity of the system you want to “control”, which is the traffic light system. So your control complexity must be at least that of the controlled system: you have to understand the complexity of the 3 states Red, Orange, Green. If you “outsource” your controlling function to another party, you have to trust that they know the complexity of that system, so far nothing wrong with that if you can make clear to the outsourcer what the complexity of the system is that you’ve given control trust to. If you start moving complexity around just because you want to avoid it a any cost, you should start asking yourselve questions if this is still the right approach.  Ulbo De Sitter (founder of the sociotechnique in the Netherlands) has a vision on this that I really like: “complex tasks in a simple organization instead of simple tasks in a complex organization”. I wonder what kind of working environment we would achieve if we combined this sociotechnique vision with the following statement from the Diversity Demotivator®: “every person deserves an equal chance to prove their incompetence” and combine that also with avoiding organizing your company around the Peter Principle: “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence“.

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