Simplicity & Complexity

by Derek Winter


Too often simplicity can be mistaken for un-sophisticated or lacking value or credibility. Maybe this can sometimes be true, but I have hung onto a concept that I was introduced to by my respected friend Col Duthie that originates from the writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes - ““I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of ”that.”

It is simplicity born of lack of effort or stopping short of the complexity of an issue or a cause is entirely worthless, whereas the simplicity that comes from the hard work to face up to complexity, or the hard graft to master something results in an elegance that is often mistaken for common sense or ‘straightforward-ness’. Perhaps the difference between simple and simplistic.

This can be seen in many walks of life, from the arts - the skill of a musician to make their craft look effortless and yet for any of us that have tried we rapidly understand the hard work and technical effort required to make it look that simple; to sport - Ricky Ponting’s pull shot or David Beckham’s free kicks; to science, literature or cooking. Business follows the same pattern. ‘Overnight success’ hides years of toil; products that in hindsight are evoke a reaction ‘why didn’t I think of that’ or that are disruptive are born of wrestling with the challenges and barriers that face any enterprise before they make a successful venture out of whatever the set their sights on.

I’m sure many examples exist across all our lives that attest to the fact that it is worth pushing through the complexities that surround us to get to the other side and find the ‘simple’. I’m not going to attempt to suggest how we achieve this here, but would love to hear anyone’s stories from their own experiences. What I do know is that it’s a journey not a destination, a mindset not a skill and something we need to be purposeful about. What I can say is that when the going seems roughest  and the complexities too much to un-ravel, that’s the time that focussing on ‘the other side’; holding onto the benefits and value of getting through and discovering the simple is what will keep us going.