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Jul 24

Complexifiers and Simplifiers

Scott Berkun says “There are two kinds of people: Simplifiers and Complexifiers

And of course, the Complexifiers in the comments go nuts.   I think that there are two kinds of people – the kind that can tolerate the “glossing over” of aspects of a problem space, and those who can’t

I’ve just analyzed my mental database, and as far as I can tell, every, and I mean every successful entrepreneur started out by solving a complex problem, by ignoring everything but the one or two key things that made the problem interesting.

  • Google:  We’ll focus on making a better searching algorithm.   They didn’t worry about content, or network effects or portals.
  • Microsoft: We’ll build a basic interpreter for the new 8086 chips.
  • Dell: We’ll make it so you can order computers from a catalog
  • Cisco: We’ll make a hardware equivalent to the software routing code inside BSD Unix
  • Hershey: We will make milk caramels
  • Ebay: We will make it so people can buy from each other
  • Oracle: We will create a relational database
  • Motorola: We will make radios for cars
  • McDonalds: Consistent food at a low price
  • Ford:  We will make a car that is cheap and reliable.

Every single one of those strategies was rife with complexity – what about supply chains? What about inspections? How will we manage quality?  How will we deal with hardware changes? How will we take orders?  How will we grow quickly?

But all of those, it turns out, were side issues – they correctly identified the core issues that people cared about, and ignored the rest.  They simplified, and by simplifying, they were successful.
Now, many startup businesses that attempt to simplify fail because they simplified the wrong things.   And I’m sure there are a few businesses that succeeded out with “we’re going to do x, y, z, w, a, b and c and dominate the market”.  But in my experience, it is very, very rare to win with the “we’re going to solve every aspect of a complex problem”.

In general, that seems to be the case regardless of the kind of project you’re working on – initiatives that attempt to simplify a complex problem succeed much more often than initiatives that attempt to manage a complex problem.  Most “managing” solutions that I’ve seen end up living a perpetual undeath of partial use, unable to actually succeed at anything.

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