Distilling the Simple from the Complex or How I Learned to Stop Making Everything So Damned Complicated…

Posted on Apr 28, 2014 by Marc Sachnoff

About 10 years ago I made a bunch of money in the game business. I was a founding exec in a game company which we sold to a big New York based confection company for around $30 million.

That was a happy day…

And I learned something very important from that experience about the tendency many companies have to make things way more complicated than they need to be.

This is true about individuals as well.

I have a friend who is brilliant at coming up with new ideas — games, movies, products, you name it. But they all have one thing in common, they are all complicated to make, explain and sell.

He’s like the folks who bought our game company — they had this powerful proclivity to make everything, even the smallest things complicated. Processes, approvals, committees, layer upon layer of stuff that bogged down operations and made innovation difficult.

So after struggling with this for a while I came to a conclusion…”simple is better.”

Remember the story about the Gordian Knot. Alexander the Great shows up at the palace of the Phrygians in a place called Gordium in the 4th Century BC. In the palace courtyard is a cart that has been tied in place for generations with a big hairy knot. According to legend, the person who could untie this knot was destined for great things.

Thousands had tried unsuccessfully to untie the knot. The best known accounts tell us that Alexander simply drew his sword and with one mighty swing, cut the knot in half. That’s the story I heard as a kid. But after a bit of research I discovered a different version of the story. In this alternate version, biographer Plutarch explains that Alexander “unfastened it quite easily by removing the pin which secured the yoke to the pole of the chariot, then pulling out the yoke itself.”[5] This revealed the inside of the knot and it was quickly untied.

In other words he found the simple within the complex. In the old version he solves the problem by destroying it. In this version, which I think holds much more instructive value to me, Alexander finds the hidden simplicity that others couldn’t see and used it to solve the problem.

When faced with tasks or situations that seem complex, I ask myself, “where is the hidden simplicity in this Gordian Knot?” And many times an interesting — and sometimes surprising or unorthodox solution will present itself.

Many pressing problems today seem so complex as to defy solution. Global warming, religious and sectarian conflicts, economic stagnation — these all are very real and thorny problems. Yet, I would submit for your consideration that every complex problem has at its heart a simple kernel — an observation, realization or action that can lead to its resolution.

We just have to be willing to ask the right questions. If we do — and this can sometimes take tremendous courage —  the answers to even our most gnarly, challenging and complicated issues can present themselves.

Just ask Alexander the Great…

5 thoughts on “Distilling the Simple from the Complex or How I Learned to Stop Making Everything So Damned Complicated…

  1. A similar approach is to break complex problems down into simpler causative elements and then use Occam’s Razor on the causes to choose which to work on first. Often you can get 80% of the solution with 20% of the effort by just fixing one of the broken parts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *