Why Simplicity Is So Complex

The key to solving complex problems may be to simplify as much as possible and approach them with a beginner's mind.

We all know the merit of simplicity in life and business. But creating simplicity, as Apple’s Jony Ive described, is anything but simple.

"Designing and developing anything of consequence is incredibly challenging. Our goal is to try to bring a calm and simplicity to what are incredibly complex problems so that you're not aware really of the solution, you're not aware of how hard the problem was that was eventually solved." – Sir Johathan (Jony) Ive

As a technology entrepreneur, author, and corporate leader every time I failed has been largely due to an inability to simplify. These failures certainly taught me some valuable lessons. In some cases those lessons have been life changing.

This idea of "simplification" is not only complex from a technical or business point of view; it is even more complex from emotional and philosophical point of view.

Let me try to expand this notion of emotional and philosophical complexity behind simplicity a bit further.

Once I had the rare privilege to dine at the sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo, Japan. It is owned and operated by sushi master Jiro Ono. He is considered by many to be the greatest sushi chef in the world. That meal and those visits in Japan made an undeniable impact on my thinking.

Anyone who has seen this master work his craft can sense the devotion that goes into his simple yet complex creations. Watch the clip below from an episode of Anthony Bourdain No Reservations with Jiro Ono and you will see what I mean:

From the episode above, let’s take a look at the elements that unveil the complex art of simplicity.

Master Ono exudes the very essence of the Japanese word Shibumi, which means "effortless perfection." In this context, Shibumi suggests complete harmony, tranquility, and balance.

It is "eloquent silence" and "understanding, rather than knowledge.”

Jiro Ono creates each sushi piece with a state of calm and tranquility with a "beginner’s mind" each time -- he does not focus on what he made before or what he will make next. It portrays his:

  • Discipline: the ability to say no when something doesn’t fit into his plan
  • Patience: that allows for the true quality of his devotion and experience
  • Strength: to stay focused on his singular purpose

One could argue from Jiro Ono’s mastery that he has "found" simplicity through the complex process of understanding what simplicity meant for him.

And as we get ready to say "welcome" to a new year and "goodbye" to another, I continue on my complex path toward my "simplicity."

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[Image: Flickr user Chris Barber]

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7 Comments

  • Glennsage

    Love it! True simplicity is extremely difficult to achieve. But, if you are actually able to achieve it, the product is far superior. I have created a business and product based on simplicity. The funny thing is that complexity works it's way in on every level. Complexity is entropy, and it requires an active focus on simplicity or the complexity will creep in, like cancer. This is why governments and non-profits get so bloated and complex over time that they cave-in on themselves. Small businesses that are run properly, with a core value of simplicity can (typically) be much more competitive.

  • Aditya Yadav

    what you call a "Beginners mind" has historically been called "First Principles" based approach and I couldn't agree more that it is perhaps the best way to do virtually anything... Yay! generalists rule!!!

  • Rayfil Wong

    Simplicity does not mean less or easy, Simplicity means easy to use + understand. -Rayfil CEO Professorsavings