By Richard Lee – Lee Engineering Inc.
Is it human nature to add complexity when solving problems? Whether engaged in the design, engineering, cooking, government, management, staffing a department, programming, or even writing sentences, we tend to add features and complexity.
Sometimes "more" becomes the root cause of many problems later. To make matters worse, we often add rather than subtract when fixing new situations! It can become an endless cycle. A band-aid on top of a band-aid. Over-engineering.
The add-more approach often increases costs, waste, complexity, bureaucracy, maintenance, and lead time slows productivity, and may be more prone to failure.
Adding is frequently not the best strategy. It may be the worst approach to solving some problems. Still, adding complexity is the most used strategy. Many overlook that option even when a better method is to subtract and simplify.
Why do people tend to add rather than subtract? Does adding to a design or process create a visible legacy? Is it a monument to our hard work and creativity? Have you ever looked at a Rube Goldberg contraption while someone else comments, not sarcastically, about the ingenuity that must have gone into it?
Ironically, finding a simple solution for a problem or design can be the most challenging approach, but it always looks easy in hindsight. When done well, there is little evidence of the hard work involved!
In my experience, making something simple and elegant takes much more thought up front and a few more design iterations.
Sometimes subtracting and simplifying goes against popular opinion. You may be tearing down someone else's legacy or contributions if you find ways to take an existing machine, product, or process and make it better by removing parts, features, or steps. If you propose eliminating an "ingenious" Rube Goldberg legacy contraption, protests and obfuscation by the originator may occur.
Ultimately, the added effort of creating a simple solution is usually worth it. However, when looking at the simple solution, few people will ever know that the first draft was a more complex, "ingenious" Rube Goldberg solution.
It turns out that researchers have studied why we use adding complexity as the go-to strategy rather than subtracting and simplifying. Here are a few links for further reading:
Why Our Brains Miss Opportunities to Improve Through Subtraction | University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science
The 'law' that explains why you can't get anything done - BBC Worklife
Subtract: Why Getting to Less Can Mean Thinking More - Behavioral Scientist
Less is more! Human brains struggle to be minimalist, scientists say | Daily Mail Online
Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less:
And, of course, there is Dilbert!
Homepage | Dilbert by Scott Adams