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With understanding comes simplicity

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

With understanding comes simplicity

Scott Miker

Many times we view something as complex, simply because we don’t understand it. We don’t see how everything connects and interacts. We don’t see the full system, just a bunch of random details.

I love watching college football. I find it exciting and interesting to see how each team fares throughout the season and into the bowl season.

Part of the reason I enjoy it, is because I have a general understanding of it. I played football in high school so I have a general sense of what is going on. I know the players because I watch some games and sports news. I know what teams are good and what teams have a new coach.

This understanding helps me to see that there is complexity in college football but overall it is pretty simplified in my mind. The understanding helps me to make sense of what is going on. It isn’t all just a bunch of random details.

Years ago I realized that as college football season ended, I stopped watching sports on TV until closer to the next fall football season.

I decided that I wanted to start to watch hockey. I’ve always been intrigued by hockey and have enjoyed watching it when I can. But the problem is that I don’t understand it.

I never played hockey, I don’t watch many shows on hockey, I don’t read articles on hockey, etc. I only know some of the very common players. I never really know what team is trending up or down. So it all becomes very complicated for me.

The idea that something we don’t understand is more complicated than something we do isn’t just applicable to sports. Years ago my furnace stopped working. I called an HVAC specialist but he was busy and couldn’t get to my house to look at the unit for a few days. I described the problem and he gave a general response about what it might be.

So I went to YouTube. I searched for that problem and my furnace model. Up came a video explaining how to do this simple maintenance. I followed the steps and cleaned the sensor and suddenly my furnace worked.

Prior to the video, I didn’t have a clue what anything inside that furnace did. Suddenly I had a little understanding. Over the years the understanding has grown due to new problems, replacing the unit with another one, and general information I have found online.

What was incredibly complicated now looks fairly simple. I still don’t have enough knowledge to do all of the repairs, but I feel better about doing some routine maintenance.

Just before Christmas I happened to see a Rubik’s cube in a store. I commented to my wife how I never understood how those things worked. I never really played with one as a child but was curious how they functioned and how to solve them.

I postulated that there is probably a video on YouTube that explains general theory of solving the cube.

To my surprise I received one for Christmas. I spent the first few weeks playing around with the strange puzzle. I would look for patterns and try to move the pieces to align them together.

I slowly started to gain more insight into the Rubik’s Cube. I realized that a piece could only be in certain positions and that there is really only one position for that piece that solves the puzzle. I started to see how I could move a piece in a specific direction.

Finally I decided to see what YouTube had to offer. I was pleasantly surprised by the tutorials. They were simple and made sense of complicated algorithms for moves that would ultimately solve the puzzle.

Suddenly my concept of a hyper-confusing puzzle was erased and I had a much simpler idea of the Rubik’s Cube. I didn’t become an expert, but I learned enough to better understand the system.

If there is an area of your life that you want to improve, it is likely the most complicated early in the process. But as you start to work through the system you will naturally learn more and more.

I found this to be true when I started eating healthy. Initially I had a lot of misconceptions about what a healthy food was. Usually I would just look for a package that said, “low fat”, “lean”, “nature” etc.

But over time, as I started to take my health more seriously, I started to better understand what healthy means. I realized that following the marketing on the package was misleading. But I also realized that there were certain principles behind food and nutrition. Once I learned that, the complicated process of eating healthy was simplified.

So if there is something that you want to accomplish, realize that the more information you have and the more you can make sense of the system, the more understanding you will gain. Through understanding you will start to be able to simplify the system. With a simpler system it will be easier to improve it to reach your goals than a complicated system.