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Posted by Philip on 9 March 2015, 5:28 pm in , , , , , ,

Simple, complicated, complex – Branson is wrong!

This morning someone tweeted this quote from Richard Branson:

Richard makes four common mistakes:

  1. He thinks complex and complicated are the same thing.
  2. He thinks complicated and difficult are the same thing.
  3. He thinks that simple and user-friendly are the same thing.
  4. He thinks the way to resolve complexity is to make it complicated or simplify it.

 So let's get some semantic clarity here. And let's be clear: I'm not just talking semantics.

We'll start simple — with Simple. A simple process isn't hard. It's fairly easy. As long as you follow a recipe, the instructions or directions, it's easy to bake cookies, assemble kitset furniture or find your way around the block in a strange city. That's because they are simple things do.

As long as you do what you're told, you'll get the same outcome every time. You can even mix things up a bit — swap chocolate chips for raisons, put a drawer handle on the wrong way, or take a different parallel street that ends on the same road — and you'll be sweet. Pretty much anyone can do these things.

It isn't hard to make something simple. What is hard is writing a recipe that is easy to follow, drawing diagrams that make things easy to assemble or giving good directions. Creating something that's user-friendly takes skill. Not everybody can do it.

Let's get more complicated — you got it, with Complicated. A complicated process is building a plane, creating a drug or solving an advanced mathmatical equation. You wouldn't want to fly in a plane, take a drug or rely on the answer to an equation that has been the work of any fool.

Complicated processes need years of training and experience to master. You can't leave out a bolt, mix in a different chemical or throw in a random number and get a safe aircraft (Richard should know that), non-toxic medication or an accurate calculation. If you don't do everything exactly right, you're stuffed.

Any fool could write a bad recipe, scribble an unintelligible diagram or give you the wrong direction. They'd make your life very difficult, but probably not complicated.

As for Complex — well, it's complex. Relationships are complex. Addiction is complex. Nature is complex. What makes them complex? Dynamics. Autonomy. Interaction. Things that involve beings, systems or processes autonomously interacting dynamically (differently every time) with each other? They're complex. You can do the same thing but get a different result or do something differently and get a similar result.

Complexity isn't your enemy, it isn't even difficult. But it is hard. We get complexity wrong because we think it's complicated. Or we try and make it simple.

How's your relationship? It's complicated. No it's not. It's complex and hard work because you are two different people with different needs and desires and ideas and weaknesses and strengths — and you're trying to make your lives work in sync.

You want to stop smoking or drinking? Just stop, it's simple. No it's not. It's complex and hard because of all the reasons you started in the first place.

What do we do to address climate change? It's so complicated, we don't know where to start. It's simple, let's buy carbon credits. No! It's neither complicated nor simple. It's complex and hard to solve because of capitalism and commercialism and greed and inequality and addiction to money and fossil fuels AND WE KNOW SWEET FUCK ALL ABOUT NATURE (yes I am shouting) but we hate to admit it so we pretend we know.

Complexity is not your enemy. It's our friend. Complexity requires us to stop doing simple or complicated things and just...stop.

Look. Notice. Ask. Listen. Think. Wonder. Laugh. Cry. Don't know. Don't do. Wait. Be.

Complexity is your friend. It's Richard's too.

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