Simplicity Vs. Complexity
image credit: gmacorig
image credit: victor nuno
Simplicity (or minimalism) is one of the largest movements of the last decade, across industries. It is especially big in the areas of design, music and architecture.
Complexity was a bigger trend during the 80’s and 90’s, especially in art. Electronic and rock music from the 80’s and 90’s had that ‘over the top’ feel to it, where artists were throwing everything and the kitchen sink at their mixes.
Blogging has brought a huge trend of simplicity in writing and ideas, with people like Seth Godin as champions of pithy, terse posts. YouTube has also made popular bite-sized content, where people are taking the snacking approach to video instead of making a commitment to watch entire shows or movies.
I could speak in abstractions about simplicity versus complexity all day, as there is plenty to compare and contrast. But I wanted to shed some light on some examples of simplicity in several different areas and provide you some tangible examples.
The reason for this post is to let you ponder ideas of simplicity versus complexity in your own life, your art and your industry. There is no right answer, and certainly both have practical and useful application. You can achieve success in many areas using either simplicity or complexity, however some things just lend themselves more to one or the other.
Let’s get right into it.
Slideshare presentations (PowerPoints)
Complex PPTs do not work. You end up communicating nothing. Complex power point presentations have been jokingly referred to as “Death By Powerpoint.” Here’s a succinct, clear presentation on how to stop this ubiquitous syndrome:
To not get into copyright issues here, I’ll present you with examples of simplicity versus complexity using my own music:
Complexity: off my previous album, track is called “Lifeforce” (download the full album as a free mp3 here)
BPM: 130 (although BPM doesn’t necessarily mean something will be simple or complex, higher BPMs lend themselves to complexity when I write)
Lifeforce is my attempt at an over the top, larger than life mix…lots of layers, big intro, several different progressions. It was the finale for the album, so in context I thought it worked well. Complexity in music is something I used to enjoy immensely, although lately I’ve been leaning towards more simplicity as it is more focused and clear.
Simplicity: off my next album, track is called “Follow Me”
I have taken a ‘less is more’ approach for the next album, as I have already done the complexity thing with music for several years. While lately I am favoring simplicity, I still do enjoy ‘full’ mixes (think Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, etc. as much as I like more simplified stuff). Have been focusing on doing shorter, simpler songs with lower BPM.
Sorry having issues with music embeds, but you can listen to both here.
If you listened to both of these I think it’s clear what the different approaches are with music and what they bring. Simplicity does provide greater clarity to the listener and make the parts all standout more. Complexity, while not putting so much emphasis on any one part comes together in your mind to produce something that I think achieves a synergistic effect.
Edge: personal preference
Architecture and Interior Design
image credit: seier
image credit: retinafunk
image credit: ryanicus
image credit: rene ehrhardt
Edge: personal preference (although my preference here is simplicity/minimalism)
Which of the following is more clear if given by someone in high level management at a company to their team:
a) We need to become more competitive in the modern marketplace by optimizing all levels of internal operations to reduce overheads.
b) We must be the lowest cost option.
In communicating messages to your team, the simplest presentation of your content always wins. I am not talking about dumbing-down your message, I am talking about stripping it to its core, clearest meaning. I’m going to borrow an example from the Heath brother’s book, “Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Other Survive”
“Put a man on the moon and bring him back safely within a decade.” — JFK
“Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”
If JFK was a modern day CEO, he might have said it this way. Thankfully he wasn’t! It’s obvious which one of these messages is clearer. Kill the jargon, and say it succinctly.
JFK’s quote was a clear, clean communication, it could not be misunderstood. He didn’t overcomplicate the message, and it is something that everyone could clearly understand. It was simple – but it was bold, clear and could be understood by every man, woman and child with total clarity. NASA knew exactly what they needed to do.
Communications can become more complicated as they move down the ladder and into the different areas of an organization, where the experts in a field can understand their own jargon and abstractions. But at the high level, the simplest messaging will be the one that all will understand and everyone can translate easily into their action-items without question.
Edge: simplicity, but complex messages have a place when communicating to niches and between specialists
image credit: maurice koop
The glider is the ultimate in flight simplicity and and a marvel of engineering. They cut through the air in complete silence and are the closest humans can come to natural flight. Using the power of nature to move gracefully across the sky is a thing of beauty. Flight controls are simple and straightforward.
image credit: cubbie n vegas
The antithesis of the glider is the 747. Raw power propels it through the sky with screaming force. Whereas a slight gust of wind will provide an ultra-light carbon fiber glider enough energy for free lift, the 747’s massive weight is contingent upon a constant supply of gasoline. Flight here is controlled mostly by computers and involves many complex systems. Much potentially could go wrong, although surprisingly rarely does due to good design, even though highly complex.
Edge: simplicity, and hopefully the next generation of mass-transportation aircraft takes advantage of the elements more to their advantage
Edge: simplicity, of course. (see this post for more).
image credit: dutchnatasja
image credit: cobalt123
Edge: personal preference
The theme of simplicity versus complexity runs throughout society, throughout industries and throughout interests. I am definitely leaning towards simplicity, especially in my art, as I have done the complex thing.
It is actually harder to write using less (music or words) and easier using more. The art of holding back and using only the most vital elements necessary is challenging, but ultimately produces the most expressive and clearest results.
Related posts from around the web
10 Things You Can Do Today To Simplify Your Life (Zen Habits)
The Simple Life (Think Simple Now)