Skip to content

Is simplicity proof of foolishness or genius?

December 27, 2011

As I’m trying to make sense of things, I notice that I’m more and more zooming out. Zooming out of context, and out of level of detail. This way, I can make things fit, and connect one concept to another. I’m just wondering if this is a good thing, and I’m getting a grasp on things, or if it’s merely a magical categorisation trick. If I zoom out far enough, and generalise enough, interpret as I go along, everything becomes one…. Everything seems so easy…. I start wondering why nobody else knows this…. Am I a genius*?

Other geniuses sometimes tell me or write to me in their theory, that the world can be captured in “a 5-step method” or a word in which each letter is the first in another word, together explaining everything. And most powerfull I find those theories that are represented visually, like in three circles overlapping each other in the middle. I feel comfortable about trusting it, because is fits so nicely, it just looks so good if it’s pyramid shaped. There must have been some kind of divine intervention to make it look so good, or -actually- maybe it reveals an actual design… by…. ok, let’s not go that way…

Bottom line: Is simplicity proof of foolishness or genius?

In this episode of “How to do it”, Jacky tells us how to rid the world of all known diseases, and Alan explains how to play the flute. It turns out to be remarkably simple.

And we can probably trust their ideas, because they have a dog.

P.s. As an illustration on how things like context, language, and experience can complicate a perfectly ordered discussion on a perfectly simple complexity model, and end up in chaos, you can read the following discussion: Hammers, nails, and a Cynefin critique.

*Probably yes, but that’s besides the point I’m trying to make 😉


From → Complexity, Humour?

  1. A lot of interesting things in one post. First, here are a few great quotes about simplicity & understanding:

    – ‘Simplicity before understanding is simplistic; simplicity after understanding is simple.’ Edward De Bono’
    – ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’ Albert Einstein
    – ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.’ Mark Twain
    – ‘Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.’ Confucius

    For me, the take home message of those quotes are, that the more you understand something, the more simple you can illustrate it – and that engagement in learning (like visuals and drawing), gets you more involved to truly understand the nuances.

    As for zooming out – I dont know much about this yet since I just heard of it last week, but that sounds a lot like ‘holistic learning’. The basic premise is to create your own personal filing system, a network where you connect together like ideas from outside the field of study in order to increase understanding. Here is a free ebook about it. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it’s on my GTD list for next week

    Click to access HolisticLearningEBook.pdf

    • Eric, thanks a lot for your comment and great quotes. They immediately inspire me to write a new post (to be continued…) on simplicity!
      I agree with the message that you distill from the quotes. I wonder however, if that implies that any ‘illustration’ is the product of the illustrator’s understanding of the topic. And the value of it lies in the sensemaking process of that person, not in the illustration itself. Does that make sense to you?
      Thanks for linking to the holistic learning ebook! I’ve had a look at it, and it looks really interesting! I also see a shift from ‘memorising’ as the main focus in learnign to ‘familiarising’. Certainly for myself, I can say I like the ‘familiarising’ bit more as it allows me to zoom out more and connect to a wider domain of knowledge. At the same time, I try to connect everything to my personal ‘model’ or ‘conceptual framework’ to be able to remember it.
      Thanks again for your post, and keep up the great work on your blog!

  2. There are a variety of ways that illustrations can be used, and I think that depends on the intent of the illustrator. For example – you have a lot of mind maps on your blog. These can be great for brain storming, but remove yourself from that process by a few weeks and how long does it take you to make sense of that illustration again? Or how much sense does it make to someone who doesn’t know the topic and is just looking at the illustration for the first time – how fast can they ‘get it’? In that case – mind mapping is more of the sense making process via visualizations. Now, if the intent was to allow greater understanding for others, maybe the rough draft brain storm might be distlled into a more simple illustration? Or maybe you would add a bit more complexity, since adding context will let others understand your thought process?

    According to Dan Roam, 3/4 of the neurons in our brain are programmed towards visual processing. If we are only making use of written language and not finding ways to visualize that information, we are missing a large opportunity to connect at a broader level. You should definitely check out his books. Here is the link to his site:

    and a great video to sum it up:

    Interesting that we’re talking about this topic since the next post I’m working on is about Visual Thinking. Hopefully I’ll have it up by today – would be great to get your take on the topic!

    • Eric, once again thanks for your valuable input! I agree when you say that -depending on how you do it- visualisation is a useful tool, regardless of whether your in intent is to make sense of something, or to explain something to somebody. I started of my drawings to make sense of some things that were on my mind. And I let them simmer for a few weeks before I looked at them again. After this second look, I kept having an unsatisfactory feeling as I felt the drawings were not perfect. That’s why I decided to start a blog, to 1) force myself to structure my thoughts not only in drawing, but also in writing, and 2) to potentially get some feedback and inspiration from others (thanks for that!).
      And I now stumble on the challenge of -like you wrote- keeping it simple, adding some context, and maybe inviting my readers to do a little sense-making themselves. Now that I’m actually starting to get a little traffic to my blog (about 15-20 views per day), I will investigate how to better engage my audience. Starting with the links you sent me and your blogpost: I will do a little research and give you my take on the topic later.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. What am I doing? « In dubio

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: