Monday, August 18, 2014

Reaction and Anticipation–Choosing Simplicity Over Complexity

It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it. - Hans Selye

I believe that people make their own luck by great preparation and good strategy. - Jack Canfield

Some years ago when car bumpers were still metal, my uncle’s car engine had died and he needed a “boost” to restart the engine. When he and my father discovered that they had only one wire available instead of the typical two required to boost a vehicle, their initial thought was that boosting the engine was impossible.  My father came up with the idea of pushing the two cars together until their bumpers touched, connecting the one wire they had between the positive leads on the batteries of the two cars and relying on the hope that the cars were both grounded through their chassis (and bumpers). The idea was that this would allow them to coax the dead car battery back to Life.

They were right and my uncle was able to return home without further incident.

Some years before that, my father’s father was asked by a local merchant to build a chimney.  The merchant in question had a reputation for not paying for work delivered and despite the pleas of many of my grandfather’s friends to not perform the work for fear of being taken advantage of, my grandfather built the chimney anyway.

Upon completion of the chimney, the merchant hemmed and hawed about paying for it as he looked for things to point out that he wasn’t happy with.  He then proceeded to light a fire in the fireplace and was startled when smoke from the fire came back into his house instead of being carried up the chimney.  Looking up the chimney, he saw no obvious issues and went to my grandfather to express his dissatisfaction.

My grandfather indicated that if he was paid for the work he had performed, he would fix the chimney immediately and the merchant grudgingly complied with the request.  Upon accepting the money, my grandfather climbed up onto the roof with a large, flat beach rock in his hand.  Centering the rock over the top of the chimney, he released it and as it fell through the chimney, it smashed the thin pane of glass that my grandfather had intentionally placed across the chimney about halfway down when he had built it.

Both stories remind me of the beauty of simplicity in either solving a problem spontaneously or anticipating a simple solution to a problem perceived to be difficult by others.

The Bottom Line

We live in a world that seems to be filled with complexity and as a result, we either respond to problems with the assumption that such problems always require complex solutions or we go through Life ignoring the importance of being prepared for problems by having simple solutions at hand.

The belief that every problem requires a complex solution or that the anticipation of a problem forces us to avoid preparation because we don’t want to be bothered with embracing additional complexity in fact creates the very complexity that we are attempting to avoid.

As a long-time Wall St / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect guy, I can state with certainty that even the most complex of things are nothing more than a combination of many simple things which can be more easily resolved on their individual merit.

The question around simplicity versus complexity becomes:

Why would we willingly embrace complexity in our Lives when better Paths to simplicity exist and why would we allow others to create complexity for us or convince us that complexity is necessary?

Each of us has an answer to this question.

Hopefully it is not more complicated than it needs to be.

How would you answer the question?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


PS For many of my clients, I recommend the process of backcasting to translate complex intentions into simple solutions.  An example of how backcasting is used can be found here and here.

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