The world is complex. And with each passing day it seems to be more and more complex.
With all of this complexity it might seem that we have to always be looking for complex solutions to problems in order to match the world around us.
But the systems and habits approach to improvement tells us to always strive for simple solutions. Simplicity is a key element of systems thinking. But this may seem paradoxical.
In a previous article I discuss linear thinking versus systems thinking and the limitations of thinking in a linear fashion. Linear thinking cuts out most of the complex system and instead focuses on cause and effect, before and after, start and finish, etc. It looks for two points and uses a line to connect them, despite the fact that there are multiple interconnected variables that all impact both points.
So it might seem that we have to succumb to the complexities of life in order to thrive. But looking for the simple, and finding the underlying systems can be (and should be) aligned.
One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is, “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element, I want to know his thoughts; the rest are just details.”
Einstein has pushed science forward as one of the most brilliant people that ever lived. Yet, his focus was actually on seeing the world how God sees it through the systematic principles and laws of science.
In What is Relativity: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why they Matter, author Jeffrey Bennett says, “Part of the reason for Einstein’s success came from the way in which he approached unsolved problems. Instead of just looking for solutions that worked, he sought solutions that would reveal an underlying simplicity in the universe. In other words, Einstein believed that the universe is inherently simple.”
One of the smartest people that ever lived and someone who solved for mind-twisting complexity actually focused on simplicity first. He used simplicity to solve incredibly complex problems.
So how do we focus on the simple when everything seems so complex? With our hectic schedules and competing priorities how in the world do we actually find simplicity?
The key is to look at it systematically. Find patterns and areas that repeat. Find aspects that impact the system.
In science this tends to be to understand the laws of physics. In sports this tends to be a focus on the fundamentals. In business this might be to understand your company’s value proposition. If you are studying mathematics figure out why the math equations work rather than trying to memorize them.
Yes details quickly get added and by nature the systems will become more and more complex. But this doesn’t mean that we abandon the simple. In fact, I feel it means that we have to be even more vigilant to find the simple and understand the situations simply before we proceed with a solution.