Simple Genius

by Stephen Mills on June 30, 2009


“If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.’ What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there. But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there”  — Steve Jobs

The idea of an elegant solution, which means a simple but effective solution, is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Modern life is complicated, but mostly because we make it complicated.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Real genius lies in coming up with an elegant solution to anything and everything.  Darwin solved the complex issue of speciation with a very simple but brilliant idea.

Besides needing to solve the truly complex with the simple, we have another and maybe even more insidious problem.  We tend to take what is already simple and make it complicated.

Your family needs to eat so you decide to go out to dinner.  From the drama of getting the family ready and out the door and into the car, to deciding where to go, to deciding what to eat when you get there; most people make the whole thing into a complicated ordeal that drains everyone and makes it less than ideal.  What started out simple was made overly complex and unnecessarily so.  This same thing happens over and over in most of what we do.

We frantically buzz around arranging our children’s lives to make them “perfect” and all we end up doing is creating a complicated mess that prevents the child from learning how to live through their own experience and growth.  All of the drama and effort ends up being for nothing.

There are a few simple principles to successful relationships but we ruin relationships by making them a complex ordeal.  Just because you do it all the time, does not mean it is necessary.  You are making something basic into something it need not be.  Listening to the relationship chatter that goes on around me simply (ha ha) boggles my mind.  My wife was watching some retarded TV show the other day that featured a bunch of young people from a reality show having a reunion.  The blah blah blah about all of their relationship drama almost made me sick.  Even the guys were participating.  I had to put my earphones in.  This is not unusual though, because I hear it in the real world too and not just in the unreal “real world” of reality TV.

Work in a corporation and you will daily observe the perfected art of making the simple overly complex.

In my own life the other day I had a hissy fit with myself because I was having trouble moving my mouse charger.  My cluttered tangle of wires made what should have been the simplest thing in the world into a complicated ordeal.  It got my thinking again about simplicity and how it should be an overarching principle of life.  My own physical clutter is making the simple complicated, but so is the clutter in my mind and yours.  The clutter of features in our gadgets, software, and in the processes we use to do everything is making what should be a simple process of living into an unnecessarily difficult process.

I have no brilliant answers, but maybe my rambling thoughts will get you thinking about it too.  I’m going to be concentrating on simplifying again, something I got away from, and if I uncover anything brilliant I’ll let you know.


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Sprezzatura « appSolution : blog
December 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Oscar - freestyle mind June 30, 2009 at 1:31 pm

One of my favorites quotes states that we should less everyday… to achieve more! Great post.
.-= Oscar – freestyle mind´s last blog ..Habit #2 – How to read one book per week =-.


Trey - Swollen Thumb Entertainment June 30, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Hey Stephen. I’ve come to believe that this is a generational thing. This is one of those beliefs that goes in cycles. One generation will see the previous generation run around like headless chickens and conclude that they are overexerting themselves, and decide to live a more simple life. This leads to clarity and right brain dominated thinking, which ushers in an era of ideas. (We’re moving into an era like this right now)

However, the next generation will conclude that if we can accomplish this much with single-tasking, then by multi-tasking, we can accomplish much more, and thus we move into an era of left brain dominated production.

I’m of the opinion that neither viewpoint is right or wrong. I believe that theres a balance in the universe, and that we should all embrace the conditions in which we are most productive. The problem comes into play when people don’t know how to be productive because they only know what other people have told them.

Thus comes the important part… liberating people from the prison of the established line of thinking.
.-= Trey – Swollen Thumb Entertainment´s last blog ..The Star Wars Kid Is A Crybaby =-.


Giovanna Garcia July 1, 2009 at 1:36 am

Life is very simple, if we let it! Most time people are the one that makes life so complicated.

Thanks for the wisdom.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action
.-= Giovanna Garcia´s last blog ..A Mule with the winning attitude. =-.


Vin - NaturalBias July 1, 2009 at 12:18 pm

In my 11 years as a software engineer, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most is finding simple programming solutions to complicated scenarios.

Of course, I like applying this to life as well, especially health. For example, supplements are useful, but too many people try to use them to cover their need for all the various nutrients we need. Aside from being a headache to do such a thing, there’s probably many essential nutrients that we haven’t even discovered yet. A much more simple solution is to simply eat the natural whole foods that dictated our nutrient needs through evolution.

In regard to complicating things by trying to decide where to eat, I’m glad we don’t eat out much anymore because it used to take my wife and I forever to pick a place. 🙂
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..Chewing Your Way to Better Health =-.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills July 1, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Stephen, this is so on the mark. The simpler we make it the more efficient we become. The more complex we make things the less we enjoy them. I think there is a movement gaining energy for less complexity. Leo’s (from zenhabits) book: “The power of Less” is a good example. I love simple and this article really resonated.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..The Relationship Between Success and Failure =-.


Dragos Roua July 3, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Simple is difficult, complicated is easy. Doing something complicated involves a shallow approach: we don’t really see the problem and we go with the simplest and easiest move we can recall. But what we recall will not always fit the current solution because, well, life’s different each time. So, we try to apply solutions that once worked to problems that are continuously different.

Happens to me every time and the solution I found is to break all the situations into Assess – Decide – Do realms. Realized that I rarely need to get out of Assess if I do it right. Responding to every stimulus in your environment is not a sign of productivity and excessive availability will drain your energy. Doing things is so overrated 🙂 Just living is so underrated 🙂
.-= Dragos Roua´s last blog ..System Overload =-.


Steve July 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm

One of the best books I read for suggestions on simplifying life was the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. I have also enjoyed reading Zen Habits blog for practical tips and solutions to cut through the noise and complexity of living in 2000 and beyond.
.-= Steve´s last blog ..Do You Need to Stop Moving Sideways? =-.


Stephen Mills July 4, 2009 at 4:28 pm

@Oscar, when I first ran across the idea of doing less to achieve more I thought it was mumbo jumbo crap. But, it works and it makes sense when you understand it.

@Trey, I love your line – “Thus comes the important part… liberating people from the established lines of thinking.” Thanks!

@Giovanna, thanks for stopping in and commenting.

@Vin software engineers (at least some of them) are the one group that seems to get the concept of simple equals elegant. Thanks for your support.

@Jonathan, thanks for your comments. Leo Babauta is the one who is responsible for converting my thinking. I think his book and blog are fabulous. I wish he would author more of his own articles though.

@Dragos, I love it! “Doing things is so overrated 🙂 Just living is so underrated :-)”

@Steve, I loved that book too. Although I think it is impractical to claim a 4-hour work week, it does have a lot of great ideas. Thanks for your support!


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