There's an old saying in the world of finance - "complexity is fraud" - a phrase coined to highlight the fact that complexity is often deliberately created in this sector so that no person or institution can be held responsible when things go wrong.
Now it wouldn't be right to suggest that every complex system is deliberately created with the aim of siphoning money off to secret Panamanian bank accounts, but we still find that it's usually done for all the wrong reasons.
An old French mathematician said: "A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street."[acp footnote]?Mathematical Problems by David Hilbert?, accessed 25 May 2013, http://aleph0.clarku.edu/~djoyce/hilbert/problems.html.[/acp]
At times complexity is unavoidable, but all too often in some organisational cultures, or 'tribes' within organisations, it's not uncommon to find people making things deliberately complex in order to put up artificial barriers to outsiders. It's bad enough when a person on the outside fails to make sense of your work, but it's downright disastrous when a department within your own company has that same problem.
Thankfully, for the vast majority of us, making things more complicated than they need to be is mostly unintentional. With that in mind, one of the ways to guide us towards always keeping things as simple and comprehensible as possible is to use the KISS principle.
Some say that it stands for Keep It Simple and Straightforward, others describe it as Keep It Simple Stupid, while yet another definition has it as Keep It Short and Simple. Some attribute the principle to the US military and others to the world of engineering, but no matter the words used or their history, the key meaning remains the same: Keep It Simple.
Remind yourself of this principle the next time you find others having trouble making sense of something attributed to you. Try thinking about how you can change your approach. Maybe you didn't need to stuff that email or presentation with unnecessary details. Perhaps you used terminology that no one other than yourself and those within your area of expertise could understand.
Try remembering how you felt in a situation where you had trouble understanding someone else. All of us have experienced this at one point or another. Visiting a foreign country perhaps, where you didn't speak the local language. It can often be a struggle to get something even very basic done. In the same way, unnecessarily complex language often leads to miscommunication, frustration, and wasted time. The most effective and impressive communication should make complex ideas seem simple and clear.
Deliberate and inessential complexity, whether used in our personal or professional lives, places needless hurdles to effective understanding, communication, collaboration and progress. Now more than ever we need to rid the world of such unnatural complexity and instead remind ourselves at every juncture to Keep It Simple.
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Photo: Walt Stoneburner
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