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Best Advice: Simple or Complex?

I occasionally prowl around social media. 

Somewhere along the line, the advertising overlords discovered my self-employed, entrepreneur status.

My web activity has, therefore, earned me a fair share of targeted ads by people with business and marketing solutions for problems I didn't even know I had.

Many of them have the same general theme: 'follow, them, pay them or do what simple thing they suggest and they will make my life simple, too.'

Simple solutions are awfully attractive too, yes?

  • Push one simple button and, presto, vexing challenges melt away.

On the other hand, there's advice so complex that you need instructions to understand the instructions.

  • One page forms that have three pages of instructions on how to fill them out comes to mind. Hello, FEMA, and your over-engineered ICS Forms? I'm looking at you.
"For simple to be valuable, it requires a history of complexity."~ Mike McKenna

As a consultant, I'm often asked to provide advice under a variety of circumstances.

  • Sometimes my clients want short, simple advice that is immediately understood and actionable.
  • Sometimes my clients want advice to be complex (such as a long, wordy report with lots of redundancies) so they have a voluminous work product that justifies my fees. These complex reports usually require several follow-up meetings to explain my evaluation, where I end up giving them a simple summary anyway.

We can all make the case for going the simple route, right? Ah, but there's a catch.

If done correctly, "simple" is not really that simple ... it's the hard-earned result from lots of complex knowledge acquisition.

Here's an example:

  • SIMPLE"To turn the TV on, click the 'on' button."
  • COMPLEX"To turn the TV on, click the 'on' button. That will activate the flux capacitor, which connects to the doohickey, which uses the Lichtenstein inter-dependency, etc."

Same initial instruction, but the latter is clearly backed by some helpful knowledge of the TV's complexity.

When there's a deviation of any kind - like the TV not turning on - who do you want to take advice from?

  • Someone who only knows how to operate an on/off switch?


  • Someone who can diagnose and evaluate the problem in order to, perhaps, provide a different simple instruction, like: "To restart the flux capacitor, unplug the TV, wait 30 seconds, then plug it back in."

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The promise of simplicity is everywhere.

  • Such an easy promise to make.
  • 'Pull back the curtain,' though, and if you don't see the residue from years of grinding out the hard work to actually make it simple ... walk away.
  • A person delivering quality advice should have a background of working on a similar problem for years.
  • If not, they likely won't have the depth to provide the right simple solution we need.

Complexity is everywhere, too. Sometimes complexity thrives because everyone has bought into the belief that it can't be made simpler.

  • Think about the wizardry needed to simultaneously turn on your WiFi, turn off your phone ringerchange the temperature and add your arrival time to your calendar every time you arrived at your office.
  • We've had cellphones, WiFi, and calendars for years but the sheer complexity of it all prevented us mortals from connecting them all.
  • Then, the website, IFTTT, which stands for "If This, Then That" established relevance in this area by taking complexities like the above examples and allowing us to connect all the disparate parts of our lives to each other with a simple toggle switch.

The complexity is still there but they've hidden it behind that simple little switch.

"For simple to be valuable, it requires a history of complexity."~ Mike McKenna @TEAM_Solutions #LeadFromTheFront

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Mike McKenna

About the author

Mike McKenna is the founder and president of TEAM Solutions. He helps public and private sector leaders improve their outcomes before, during and after a planned event or unplanned crisis.

Please contact Mike via the Contact page.

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