Don’t make it more complicated than it is.

December 27th, 2011

When something is legitimately complicated, we have an easy out: we’re not supposed to get it / learn it / master it on the first go, and we can even elicit others’ sympathy for making an effort.

  • “You’re reading Ulysses? I’m too scared to even try.”
  • “You’re taking organic chem? That would be totally over my head.”
  • “You’re implementing a new CRM system? That must be a nightmare.”

It’s an easy out because this benefit of the doubt may be there even if you’re badly half-assing your efforts at reading Ulysses.

Some people spend far more effort in mastering this strategy than they do in getting the actual work done. The fact that many of them do it subconsciously makes it less wicked, but so much sadder. These poor souls actually believe that life keeps presenting them with challenges that are just too complicated for them to master.

It’s a crock.

If you’re doing something genuinely complex — switching a Fortune 100 company from Oracle to SAP, staging La Traviata at the Met — yes, take steps to deal with the complexities. Build a team, designate leaders in different specialties, hold weekly status meetings, build out Gantt charts, what-have-you. If it’s a complex solo effort, you should still spend a little extra time on organizing to try to get the various threads to come together on time and in good order.

But whether it’s simple or complex, at some point you just have to roll up your sleeves and do the actual thing. The writing, the studying, the construction of the stage sets, the installation of the new hardware. The actual nuts and bolts of the project.

And here’s a thing that some people never get: most of the projects you do in life are only nuts and bolts. Many of them are just a single nut to be tightened onto a single bolt.

When you hit a project like that — you’ve probably had eight of them already today — just pick out a wrench and go to work. In the time it would take you to deconstruct it, worry about it, and organize it, you could have done it and the three next to it.

To review:

  1. Let things be as simple as they really are.
  2. Organize just enough.
  3. Get to work.

It’s not easy — but it is simple.

Photo by Joel Cooper.

One Response to “Don’t make it more complicated than it is.”

  1. Kate Setzer Kamphausen Says:

    And USE EXCEL SPREADSHEETS!! I have art-directed entire films using (a) Excel spreadsheets and (b) a crew of dedicated people. Of course other people are frequently necessary in these complicated projects! Why else do you think John Waters uses the same designers for all his films?

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