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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Simplicity: When Details Matter

According to Occam's razor, all other things being equal, the simplest theory is the most likely to be true.  A simple solution always takes less time to finish than a complex one.  So always do the simplest thing that could possibly work next. If you find something that is complex replace it with something simple. It's always faster and cheaper to replace complexity now, before you waste a lot more time on it.

I came across a TED Video by Rory Sutherland that illustrates the need for simplicity within problem solving in a compelling and humorous way. It may seem that big problems require big solutions, but ad man Rory Sutherland says many flashy, expensive fixes are just obscuring better, simpler answers.

Some noteworthy highlights from the video:

So there seems to be a strange disproportionality at work, I think, in many areas of human problem solving, particularly those which involve human psychology, which is the tendency of the organization or the institution is to deploy as much force as possible...

Our own sense of self-aggrandizement feels that big important problems need to have big important, and most of all, expensive solutions attached to them. And yet, what behavioral economics shows time after time after time is in human behavioral and behavioral change there's a very, very strong disproportionality at work. That actually what changes our behavior and what changes our attitude to things is not actually proportionate to the degree of expense entailed, or the degree of force that's applied...

What is completely lacking is a class of people who have immense amounts of power, but no money at all.

... what is happening in the world is the big stuff, actually, is done magnificently well. But the small stuff, what you might call the user interface, is done spectacularly badly. But also, there seems to be a complete sort of gridlock in terms of solving these small solutions....

Based on this backdrop Rory suggests a simple 4 way approach to looking at problem solving:

Rory asks, "what do you call this fourth quadrant?"  I would call this "simplicity".

He suggests that every business needs to add a Chief Detail Officer to be in charge of the tiny things that don't cost a lot but if successful have a big impact.  I wonder if this is not another name for the Lean leader in your organization.

In my experience with problem solving in a Lean environment it is often those simple creative solutions at the source of the problem by those who do the work that are the most effective.  Lean leaders understand this well and work to create a culture that fosters and develops the use of this ingenuity.  A focus on what I call the three e's: education, engagement, and empowerment are effective at establishing that culture.

I think it was Leonardo da Vinci that said it best "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

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1 comment:

  1. I just recently watched this video and found it to be so consistent with Lean thinking too.

    What stands out to me is his comment about how great the tunnels are but how bad the signs turned out to be. The details of the signs reflect the needs of the system. How many leaders create a shell (system) but move on to something else without the support needed to keep it going? While the front-line should be the ones improving and designing "the signs" it is bad leadership to walk away after "the tunnel" is done!

    Thanks for sharing this video Tim!