Quote of the Week – Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. Albert Einstein
The word, “Einstein,” is associated with “genius.” Yet, in this quote, Einstein promotes simplicity. How could that be? I think Einstein is talking about finding the right balance. The right balance makes things simple – but not too simple! So, how can you make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler?
- Pay attention to how you communicate. How much detail is needed when you describe a situation? Do you articulate your thoughts in simple terms without giving too much detail about important elements or nuances?
- Pay attention to how you listen. Do you listen for oversimplification by others and also challenge statements that make something seem simpler than it really is?
- Develop criteria for assessment. When you listen to a political candidate describing a simple solution to a complex issue, do you do some research to determine if the solution might be “too simple” to work?
- Don’t attack another person’s character. “Character attacks” are too simple a way to analyze issues: “We have this problem because (xxx person) is incompetent (or corrupt or immoral).” While such a statement may occasionally be true, in most cases it grossly oversimplifies a cause and effect relationship.
- Avoid black and white thinking and oversimplified solutions. “If we just get rid of the mayor, we could fix our infrastructure problems in no time at all!”
- Recognize that “simple” does not necessarily mean “easy.” In fact, it’s often challenging to be “simple.”
A relative of mine once worked for a famous astronomer at a well-known college. This astronomer announced at 11:30 am that he wanted my relative to create a report for him by noon. She reminded him that she had a long-standing commitment during her lunch hour and could not start on the report until 1:00 pm. He looked at her desk and asked, “Could you show me which button you have to push to create the report?” She couldn’t believe that a world-famous astronomer actually thought that she could create the report by simply pushing a button! The astronomer oversimplified the situation.
At a keynote speech I attended few years ago, motivational speaker Joel Weldon asked the audience, “Can you tell me the difference between simple and easy?” After a few people attempted to distinguish the difference, he said, “Many sports are based on simple concepts, yet they are not easy to execute. For example, the game of golf is simple. On a par-3 hole, all you have to do to make par is to reach the green in one shot and then 2-putt. On a par-4, all you have to do is reach the green in two strokes and then 2-putt. It’s very simple. But, on most golf courses, it sure isn’t easy!” “Simple” does not necessarily mean “easy.”
Questions for Reflection
- Why do politicians often oversimplify solutions to complex problems? What is your role in educating yourself, friends, and family members about political proposals that are just too simple?
- In your work setting, what do you do when your supervisor does not understand how difficult it would be to actually carry out his or her request?
- How can leaders make it “safe” for people to address the fact that things may not be as simple (or easy) to resolve as they may appear to be?
- Do you frequently find yourself underestimating how difficult it will be to carry out your own action plans? If so, how can you make things more simple?