What is there to say? I'm not very interesting. I'm not a good writer. I don't even dress well. If you insist on knowing something about me just wander through the archives. It's all there.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On simple

I always cringe when I hear someone say, "Oh, it will be easy. It’s such a simple project."

That word, "simple" is a killer. It can be easy to execute a simple project, but it is more difficult to have it be perceived as a successful project. I have a theory about why this is the case. I could call it the "Splintered Focus is Kinder" theory. It is human nature to be more attuned to tiny flaws when we are asked to critique things that are easy to examine. The more complex the object of our attention, the less aware we are of the minuscule flaws.

Imagine that you are told, before entering a room, that you will have one hour to study the quality of the contents of the room. You enter the room and see one cardboard box. For the next hour, you study the cardboard box. You note each tiny dent, scrape, and irregularity in that box. When you leave the room after one hour, no matter how perfect the box may have been chances are that you will have an extensive list of flaws to present. Your impression of the quality of the box will be colored by the time and effort required to find the tiny flaws. You want to have some criticisms to show for your time.

Now imagine, that you enter a second room with the same set of instructions. This time you find one thousand boxes. You will look over the boxes and although you may notice some of the more obvious flaws, many others will escape your notice in the complex interaction of surfaces that are presented to you. When you leave the room, you may have some generalized misgivings and make note of some of the more glaring defects, but it is doubtful that your report will be replete with the individual deficiencies for every single box.

In the first room, one hundred percent of your focus was on that single box. In the second room is doubtful that any individual box received more than a tiny fraction of your time and attention. Even if we allowed you ten hours to critique the second room, it is still likely that your response would be based on a general impression of quality rather than a detailed inspection of each individual surface. It is possible to hide a lot of flaws and still have a very successful project when the final product is composed of a number of seemingly complex interactions. The overall impression of those who judge your work becomes much more important to their final judgment than their examination of each individual element.

Getting "simple" to be perceived, as being "right" is really quite complex. I would much rather be in charge of an obviously complex project. It is much simpler to do well.


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