On oversimplifying

Many things in life are overly complicated: organizations, governments, speeches, books, technology, the list goes on.

The reasons for the complications are many and often voiced by members and defenders alike - even fair critics.

Many of these things can be simplified. Organizations could have simpler structures but it may damage manager egos or have a negative impact on revenue, the true goal. Books could be simpler but then they may not justify the $9.99 for just a page. Technologies could be simpler but for the proud engineer who prefers craft over impact. Many reasons.

But many things cannot be made simpler. As I looked at the Google results page today, I found far more than links to web pages as one may have seen in 2000 or 2010. There are quick answers, images, news articles, ads, and more.

While simplification couldn’t hurt, there are broader considerations. The images actually help drive comprehension. The quick answers may save a searcher from having to click through, and loading a page would be too slow on mobile. The web of 2020 isn’t the web of 2010, and we have made certain advances worth leveraging. If quick answers to a query like “Father’s Day” (or more like “fahters dat”) tell us June 21st is the date this year, then the search engine is no longer solely a conveyor of relevance-sorted links, but rather its purpose was always to provide the fastest high quality path to knowledge or action, and the ways to do that have evolved and changed shape.

Imagine a results page that only contained relevance-sorted links. I would have to click on the first one and wait for some slow-loading ads before scrolling and finding in some esoteric annual table that for 2020, it’s June 21st.

Simplification can shift complexity to another medium or step in a process, at which point, it is no longer simplification. By prioritizing which complexity to reject and which to accept based on an ultimate goal that is more important than any one part of the machine, it provides clarity on what requires simplification.

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