Enemies and friends of simplicity

No one has ever become a hero by solving simple tasks. However, those who simplify complicated and difficult tasks have what it takes to become a hero. Alexander solved the complicated Gordian knot(opens in new tab), by simply cutting it up.

Heroes have friends and enemies. What are the enemies and friends of the heroes of simplicity?

Enemies of simplicity

Predictability: The more precisely something has to be planned in advance, the more complicated the planning becomes. After all, entire groups and controlling departments are involved in planning without being able to increase accuracy. At the end of the day, it's the customer who decides, and the customer is quickly forgotten in all the planning work.

Fear of the uncertainty of the future leads to elaborate planning of the present instead of openness to future developments.

Inadequate systems: A mismatch between the structures of the requirements and the structures of the systems prevents a simple mapping. The one-dimensional representation does not simplify multidimensional relationships, but rather complicates them. Similarly, graphs should not have to be mapped in trees (e.g. bill of materials, manufacturing products).

Simplifying complexity can therefore lead to greater complexity.

As we get older, it's not just people who become more complicated, but also organisations and systems. SOAP was once a simple solution for interfaces that quickly became very complicated. The same goes for Word. Features are constantly being added and rarely removed. However, this creates opportunities for newer, simpler systems such as REST interfaces or Google Docs, to which features are then soon added again.

The programming of browser-based applications is currently going through a phase of increasing complexity; single page applications (SPA(opens in new tab)) can only be built with complex toolkits. Perhaps we need a second Tim Berners-Lee(opens in new tab), to simplify the model again?

If management does not focus primarily on delighting customers, but instead expands internal processes, it does not contribute to simplicity. This closes the circle to planning - managers want planning certainty (because they don't want to appear haphazard to their superiors), so they plan more and realise less.

The only way around this is to shift employees to jobs where they can delight customers, but that brings us to the friends of simplicity.

Friends of simplicity

The most powerful friend of simplicity is the endeavour to inspire the customer. Everything else takes a back seat. That is the idea of Radical Management(opens in new tab), and was presented by Steve Denning. Every activity is scrutinised to see whether it is directly aimed at delighting customers. If not, the activity is discontinued and the job is relocated or cancelled (the method is not called radical for nothing) - this increases competitiveness.

If the customer doesn't want simplicity, he has to be convinced, otherwise it won't work. Protection through thick contracts does not work - Boeing involved its first customers and suppliers (who also took risks) with short contracts when building the Boeing 777 [Source(opens in new tab)].

A company without profit makes little sense: it therefore needs some key figures and reasonable targets for employees, for example OKRs(opens in new tab). The rule here is: less is more!

As a businessman, I'm always interested in where the money comes from and where it goes. [Jack Ma]

Clarity of thought is important for simplicity. People find it difficult to memorise more than 7 states in processes or more than 7 categories in classifications - they quickly perceive things as complicated. Seven states or classifications can be understood together in a team.


Simplicity has more enemies than friends - but it has one very powerful friend: the enthusiastic customer! For him, it is worth taking on the hardship of simplicity.

Martin Gfeller

Martin Gfeller

Head Application and Business Services

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