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Why are some people and organizations incapable of simplicity and ease?

  • SumoMe

Why don’t some people and organizations simplify and easify their messages, products, directions, etc.?

I’m beginning to think that it’s not that they don’t want to, or don’t understand the value of simplicity and ease. I suspect that they might actually be incapable of simplifying!

Can people who understand the power of ease and simplicity, who devote large amounts of resources to these pursuits, actually be incapable of simple and easy product design, web site design, communication, structure, etc?

I’d like to raise some questions and share some musings.

I won’t bore you with the complexity, but I’ve just been sensitized to this issue in struggling to move my web site to another supplier that gives the site more speed and ease of use. I’m also switching from Drupal to WordPress and moving my mail to Google Apps Mail. So, I’m attempting to do three major switches that all have to be done at the same time. What’s important to you is that I’m learning some important life lessons and questions about Ease and Simplicity (EAS) that I thought I’d share.

You don’t have to know what they are, but WordPress and Drupal are programs for managing the content of web sites like this one. WordPress is a dream, written totally from the point of view of the user. They really understand ease and simplicity. Drupal gets the need for ease and simplicity, but they have been unable to implement it, even when they just spent years on a massive crusade to make it more user friendly.

It’s a fascinating mystery to me why some organizations like Microsoft and Drupal understand the need for ease and simplicity, but seem epistemologically unable to do it despite intense efforts. I’m not talking about the old Microsoft, which didn’t have a clue about simplicity. I’m talking about the present, hip Microsoft which desperately seems to want to simplify and make their products easier to use. There are Google, Apple and WordPress, sitting out there as outstanding examples of simplicity, dominating their markets, the most successful organizations on the planet, with everybody understanding that Ease and Simplicity (EAS) are major keys to their success, with everyone trying to emulate them, and no one able to.

Why can’t fabulous organizations, with amazing resources, copy the Ease and Simplicity that they know they need, that competitors have demonstrated are successful? It’s not that they don’t have the resources, attitudes, will, knowledge or desire. It’s not that it cannot be done: Adobe is a shining example (the only one I can think of at the moment) of a company that had hopelessly complicated products with the most capabilities in their fields. They have somehow gone to elegantly simple interfaces and explanations, while increasing the capabilities of their programs. Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, and their other programs can hardly be considered simple and easy in the grand scheme of things. But they are masterpieces of EAS, given that they are professional programs designed to have more bells, whistles and other capabilities than their competitors. They also have simpler versions, like Photoshop Elements and Lightroom, that aren’t just stripped down, they are re-designed from the users’ point of view, for the non-professional in the case of Elements, and from the photographer rather than the graphic artist point of view, in the case of Lightroom. BRAVO!

You would think that Microsoft, Drupal, all the phone companies, HP, and many others, could do anything they set their minds to, given their resources. So what’s going on and what can we learn from it?

Here’s my thinking so far: I realize that the inability to easify and simplify is related to a particular kind of knowledge blindness, but it seems to go beyond just blindness.. Knowledge blindness (and its more extreme form, expert blindness) is the inability to see things the way a beginner or less-informed person sees it. But I think that something much more profound and deeper may be operating here. Maybe it’s not just the inability to see, but Ease and Simplicity demand that someone’s mind work differently: They have to engage in an alien process. instead of piling on more and more information and features, they have to see what can be simplified or eased for the other person, even though it’s easy and simple for them. Then, they have to simplify, which, it turns out, is a very difficult process. It doesn’t only involve leaving things out. It involves many things like abstracting out the details, re-sequencing things, organizing concepts into sub-concepts or higher-level categories, forming new concepts or groups, and many other psychological, communication, and product design skills. It’s a form of thinking that very smart people don’t have to do much, because they are so smart that they can hold so much in mind, and less intelligent people can’t do because it takes a lot of intelligence.

So, my working hypothesis is this: Easification and Simplification can only be done by very intelligent people who have mastered an additional complex skill set, much like some writers and editors have mastered the art of writing simply about complex subjects. No one — to my knowledge and I’ve searched a lot — has set out the methods of easification and simplicity. Hell, there isn’t even a word “easification” “easify” or, for that matter, “funification.” I plan to write about this skill set in much greater detail. Stay tuned.


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  1. While I agree that WordPress is much simpler than the likes of Drupal, it is still not that simple to use, nor is it a dream.

    But the only way anyone can find that out is to use it for a while.

    I’ve used it for several years and recently ditched it after I got that fed up with trying to make it behave.

    Now I’m a lot happier and my blogging is a lot simpler.

    But getting back on topic, anyone who’s a master of their craft, great sportsmen, musicians, doctors etc always make the complex and difficult look easy and simple.

    Think Tiger Woods on a good day.

    Almost without exception when asked about how they are able to do these things so seemingly effortlessly, they say hours and hours of practice over years and years, sometimes decades.

    And Apple has been practicing at this for a long time, Microsoft not long enough. IE It may take decades.

    And I disagree that it’s a complex skill set for only very intelligent people. That to me seems like adding another layer of complexity to the process, which seems counter productive.

    “Simplicity is achieved not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away.” (I forget who said that.)

    So rather than adding people’s skill set, perhaps we should be taking away all of the skills they already have, and then see what they come up with.

    Haha, now wouldn’t that create some turmoil and angst.

    • Thanks for your very thoughtful comment.

      It’s a dream after my Drupal nightmare. But you’re right, I’ll have to use it for a while. I’m curious, what are you using now?

      While the masters make it look like it’s simple for them, only a few have the additional skill set to explain it simply to others. All that I’m saying is that a master performer isn’t necessarily a master teacher. The teaching part, with its communication clarity, patience, empathy and other psychological skills, is a separate and distinct skill set. I have no idea whether Tiger Woods would be able to teach or even explain anything about golf. My wife and I did take a lesson from Chi-Chi Rodriguez. For us, at that time, total beginners, he was a terrible teacher. I’ve taken Magic lessons from the world’s greats, some of whom could not explain the simplest thing. My mentor, Tony Slydini, was great at explaining but terrible at providing support and encouraging individuality. Some were able to explain the most complex things in a way that anyone could have done. You get the picture.

      Sometimes people get so good at what they do that they can present it with the simplest clarity. Others can only speak to other experts.

      It was Antoine St. Exupery who is the source of your quote, one of my favorites.

      But I’m not talking about performance. I’m talking about communicating that performance to others, verbally and in the form if products that are easy to decide on and to use. Some experts are incapable, it seems, of ever learning to do that.

      I’ve thought enough about the skill set of making decisions easy for others that I’m convinced that it’s a separate set. I’m about to post my (incomplete) list. Stay tuned and thanks for your pushback. It made me think and wonder. Thanks for the gift.

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