May 6, 2021

Simple Isn’t Easy

This is the eighteenth in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

The smartphone is a remarkable piece of technology. A beautiful hi-res display and a couple of buttons are all you see. It fits in your pocket, yet it is far more powerful than the computers used to land humans on the moon.

Isn’t that staggering to think about? How does a tiny device with such a simple interface have so much power?

Such simple, elegant solutions are not easy to achieve. Under that sleek exterior exists a combination of incredible engineering, complex design, and technical problem-solving that I won’t pretend to understand.

When we design solutions to problems, we typically create something functional but rudimentary and lacking refinement. Our initial ideas are usually over-complicated and fragile. To make them elegant and simple requires a lot of work that can be harder than solving the original problem. Which is perhaps why most of us don’t bother and instead settle for serviceable solutions.

Have you noticed how high performers like world-class athletes make what they do look effortless? They can trick us into thinking that what they do is easy and maybe inspire us to take up golf, tennis, or whatever they do as a hobby.

But, when we start doing something new, we are unaware of how deep the rabbit hole goes. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Only once we start to swing the golf club or the tennis racket and become a practitioner do we realise that there is so much more to it than we thought. It is no longer simple. We fall into the valley of the Dunning-Kruger curve, and the hard climb begins.

Eventually, if we stick with something long enough, it starts to get easier, and we experience something resembling simplicity. But getting there is hard work.

Because simple isn’t easy.