The Good Simple

Leadership, Life

The process of understanding always works like this:




Take almost anything — our view of business or religion or politics or sexuality — and we all start with a limited perspective. We begin as headstrong teenagers/college kids/young adults and part of “growing up” means exploding some of our preconceived notions.

(It would appear that some people never actually explode anything, which is both unfortunate for them and also explains why we have so much hatred floating around.)

We all start with a simple comprehension of something, and almost always, that “something” is more complex than we initially consider. When we increase our understanding of that “something,” it becomes more complex, more nuanced. We learn new things and suddenly begin to see layers of intricacy that we would’ve sworn didn’t even exist before.

Example time — I was morally opposed to being a business major during my undergraduate years. I had a certain impression of what “business” meant, and I also “knew” I wanted nothing to do with it. After a number of years in the world, I realized my understanding was not just overly simple, it was also not helping me move forward in life. I now have a MBA.

If we wish to grow as a human being, we must embrace the complexity of life. We must find a way to destroy our stereotypes and our prejudices, and typically we can only do this by embracing a certain level of complexity.

However, if we desire to create meaning from complexity, we must make it to the “other side” of these details and distill the complicated-ness back into something more understandable. But the fact remains that to get to what I call “the good simple” (the second one), we must go through complexity. There is no other path.

The other interesting part of this idea is that it means we need two kinds of communicators. We need individuals who can make the simple things complex and people who can make those complex things simple again. We need scientists to explain the mechanics of the mysterious glowing gaseous entities we call stars and we need poets to remind us of the profound childlike magic of tracing constellations with our fingertips.

One of my favorite writers, Malcolm Gladwell, excels at teaching and illustrating the importance of complexity. For a great example of this, read his New Yorker article Troublemakers. Personally, I believe my strength is to shoot for the other side; taking complex concepts and making meaningful, actionable ideas from them.

Where are you?

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes


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