Category: Simplicity


Simple Living Is Not Avoidance

Life is complex. Pretty much everything we do is complex. The sooner we can submit to the complexity of our existence, the sooner we can avoid simplistic reductions to the challenges and opportunities we face. And also, we can employ simplicity to tame the complexity of life. A tame horse is still a horse. Taming the horse allows us to interact with what is still a horse but in a manageable way. Metaphorically, when we tame life, we are not changing it from complex to simplistic. Taming life allows us to live life in a manageable way. Simplicity can help us do this.

Anyone who works on complex projects for a living knows that, no matter how you look at it, a complex project is a complex project. There is no simplistic way to launch a rocket into space. There is no simplistic way to build a skyscraper. There is no simplistic way to implement enterprise software. Yet, all of these complex projects are successfully accomplished by simplifying them. I have never known why anyone would want to eat an elephant, but we have all heard the way to do so is one bite at a time. In the same way, a complex project is broken into bite-sized tasks. Complexity is tamed little by little.

That is important to believe. It would be foolhardy to pursue a life of simplicity with the aspiration of making life simplistic. None of us who are attracted to simplicity should hope that, if we somehow do a good job pursuing a simple life then we will dodge the complexities of life. Simple living and avoidance do not mix well.

Simplicity is kind of like bundling up on a cold, clear, moonless night and looking at the stars. The more we settle into the act of gazing at the night sky, allowing our eyes to adjust, the more we see and appreciate the immensity of the universe. And it is beautiful. Simple living can slow us down, let our perspective adjust, allowing us to see and appreciate life in all of its complexity. It is a view none of us should miss out on seeing.


Simplicity and Human-Centered Business

Businesses actually caring about people is not new. People always have been human and so, even as some business owners past and present have treated employees inhumanely, there always were and still are and ever will be businesses run by executives who treat employees with dignity. Simplicity can help.

For example, in the creative industry there is a product full of simplicity that helps tame the complexities of projects large and small. Basecamp. You might have know the company as 37Signals before its recent name change. You might know, too, that the company has something like a cult following among its users. Personally, I would like to resist the label of cult follower, though I could hardly be more of a fan. Using Basecamp is a pleasure. A human-centered pleasure.

With the launch of Basecamp 3, Jason Fried and his team are exploring a way to make the corporate grind even more human. Work Can Wait. In the always-on noise of cyber modernity, this feature allows employees to shut off notifications for certain periods of time, like weekends or after hours.

Now, I have been a business owner and felt the pull of a 24-7 workweek. And in the past eight years at my current job, it has been the rare evening or weekend when I have not checked the status of a project or at minimum scanned emails. I am of the opinion that work is one of the most human things we can do Yet, stepping away from work and being present with family and friends and community is equally human.

What does all this have to do with simplicity? Users of Basecamp will know that it is a beautifully simple product. I do not have enough experience to know if SpaceX could use Basecamp to launch and land rockets; highly complex projects probably require different, less simple project management software. Behind the ethos of Basecamp, though, is the belief that complexity does not need to be tamed with complexity. There is a commitment to the power of simplicity baked right into the software user interface. And, it seems to me, the new Work Can Wait feature extends that commitment beyond UX. The feature makes the case that not only are complex challenges not solved by more complexity, but complexity is not overcome by constancy. As humans, we bring our non-omnipresent and non-omniscient selves to all that we do at work. The way that we are built, we need to step away from time to time.

Honestly, I am not sure I could use the Work Can Wait feature in the new Basecamp. Perhaps habit and the demands of the always-on world around me would win out. But I appreciate the idea. And it seems genuinely human-centered.


Self-Imposed Limits

Earlier this week I went to the credit union and paid the remaining $4.02 on my 2006 Honda Civic. The teller who helped me was very kind. She also let me know I was prequalified for a new auto loan. I said I was content with the car I own and grateful to have no more debt.

I bought my used Honda a few years back after the 1990s Mazda 929 finally became too unreliable. At the time, I did not have enough cash to buy the Honda outright and so got a small loan. I still can recall how the person who helped me was surprised at how little I wanted to borrow. She told me I qualified for a lot more and could get a nicer car. I said I was content with the used Honda and preferred to keep my debt as low as possible.

Our economy does not treat everyone equally. There are people who cannot walk into a credit union and get an auto loan. But for those of us who can, the economy encourages us the same way. It encourages us to extend ourselves as much as possible. Borrow as much as a creditor will offer. Buy as much as the debt will purchase.

For many of us, the financial limits we live within are the ones we self-impose.