The Power of Simplicity

Maurice Lynch, CEO of Nathean Technologies, discusses how it takes a bit of effort to make something simpler but the results are surprisingly more powerful.

You never hear someone say “that’s so complex, why didn’t I think of that?”.

People respond well to simplicity. We reward those who make simple gadgets and berate the things that make simple tasks difficult. Too often we are overloaded with options, which sounds great, but having too many options can slow down the decision making process. What’s my best option? The goal for taking the time to simplify is to end up with something superior and more useful than the original. Yet to simplify anything is oddly a difficult thing to do. How do you decide what to leave in and what to take out? How much time should you spend with the scalpel?

Blaise Pascal

“The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”  – Blaise Pascal – 17th century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and  philosopher.

The argument for simplicity is compelling. Great leaps in philosophy, engineering, mathematics, physics and so on have been because someone took some ‘leisure time’ to think about a particular problem and reduce it to its essence. When people wanted to believe that the Earth was the centre of our solar system astronomers had many convoluted mathematical formulas, diagrams and assumptions to prove it, or so they thought.  The truth was much simpler to explain. Occam’s Razor, known as the law of economy, states that among competing hypothesis the one with the least number of assumptions should be selected – or by example, if you hear galloping hooves it’s safe to assume it’s horses and not zebras!

In the 1940s Alan Turing reduced the concept of ‘information’ into its simplest form (1’s and 0’s) which one day could be read and processed by a machine. Binary codeThe digital age would not have happened, or certainly would not have happened when it did, without such thinking. More than likely you’re reading this on some device and you are able to see it because everything has been reduced into a machine readable sequence of 1’s and 0’s. It doesn’t get much simpler than binary.

Software, however, has a unique quality in that there is no system feedback that there are too many features or options. Give a computer more memory and disk space and you can keep loading on the features. In engineering the laws of physics provide the checks and balances…overload the bridge and it collapses. So, there is a level of discipline required in software design to keep it simple yet powerful.

In our company we strive for simplicity. Our tagline from day 1 has been “Data Analysis Made Easy”…but do we always get it right? Absolutely not! Our definition of simplicity may not always be how the customer sees it and we have to continuously think about how to make our products simpler to use and at the same time more powerful. We look at traditional methods of building business intelligence solutions and think about new approaches to deliver simpler, more agile and more customer interactive solutions. And here’s the point, simplification needs to be a first class activity so I’m going to follow through and simply stop writing now…!

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