Great news! We made it really complicated!

I’ve been reminded a few times this past week that complexity is overrated. I love big Excel models and rambling blog posts as much as the next guy, but most of the time people just need us to make things easier to follow. 

Years ago I read A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley. It’s a modern classic, although not a happy read by any stretch of the imagination. Exley is a tortured soul trying to find his way; he’s rather brilliant, so he picks up teaching. But as his students continue to struggle, it dawns on him that for all of his intellect he will never be a good teacher. He lacks, he realizes, “the intelligence to simplify.” It turns out that biggest obstacle facing his students is him. 

I’m not always great at learning from his example, but it stuck with me. Complexity can inspire awe — but more often than not it just perpetuates confusion. The best missions, strategies, and even relationships are simple. 

The fact is, unless your job is to design corn mazes, spelling bees, or crossword puzzles, what everyone wants is straighter lines, fewer syllables, and shorter words. No one cheers the person who makes things inscrutable hard to understand.