When simple is hard

A tweet yesterday from Dion Hinchcliffe on whether social adds complexity or removes it got me thinking again about the confusion we often have between complicated and complex. Complicated tends to mean difficult whereas complex needn’t. You can have complex systems that are easy to understand and operate in whereas this is never true of complicated systems.

Equally, simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Writing a blog post is simple but for many it feels really hard. It requires thought, commitment, even bravery.  Also what happens after you save your blog post isn’t complicated but the effects are complex and rich. The ongoing conversations, comment threads, tweets and so on that can be triggered by a good blog post are wonderful in their complexity but the process is simple rather than complicated.

This is for me the biggest difference between truly social tools and many of the enterprise tools that go under that name. Tools that work are simple to use, but have complex and rich effects and require an investment of thought and effort to make them truly effective. Tools that don’t work are complicated, difficult to work out but make it easy to write inconsequential flotsam.

20 thoughts on “When simple is hard

  1. Dear Euan, I think there's a much more fundamental question than tools that enterprises struggle with….and that is imagination! I can't tell you how often in the past 4 years I have heard the "keepers of the corporate voice" express exasperation like" But what should we be blogging about"? The problem I think is that despite all the technology in the world, many of the old school PR and Public Affairs professionals, or what I call the "invisible voice of the brand/ corporation" cannot reconcile the mindset of "the corporation as a legal persona and entity separated from its shareholders and customers by a certificate of incorporation" , and the corporation as a collective of human beings of flesh and blood with whom customers have daily interactions, and who expect more human-like interaction of the entity. When you are in the mindset of "entity" you cannot imagine the company as a human …and you cannot imagine how to communicate with other humans…'cause all you see is issues, legal considerations, regulatory and compliance risks….and there's no place for empathy! It's a terrible blight!

    Like

  2. Totally agree Annalie and in fact I touch on that in my previous rant! The technology is by far the easiest bit but that is where most of people focus. As you say it is because contemplating the real issues is often too painful.Thanks for commenting.

    Like

  3. Thanks Euan, an interesting observation. There's also the issue of confusing the capabilities or intricacies of the technology with its usability – a system might be extremely complex (and even complicated) under the hood, but provided this complexity is hidden from the user, and the interface is intuitive, clean, and also flexible (i.e. to allow people to adapt it to their own preferences if they want) then this complexity shouldn't matter.I think in many cases it comes down to individual perceptions (which will vary by role as well as by personality) and openness to new ways of doing things, which is where the need for education – and patience – comes in when you are trying to get people to see the benefits of these new tools.

    Like

  4. Yes all interfaces should be as simple as you can make them but I would add without dumbing down. There was pressure on me to make the tools we deposed at the BBC easy for those who found them hard but in doing so we risked compromising functionality for those who didn't! I am beginning to harbour a suspicion that non geeks are just lazy …

    Like

  5. Euan you are on fire this autumn. But. "inconsequential flotsam" ? One of the major benefits of the new environment is that people participate. As ever one person's "noise" is another persons "signal" – to utilise someone else's observation.You are seemingly not the only one on fire as Annalie's input is so very important – there is a real culture class going on – battle is joined and unfortunately there will be casualties.

    Like

  6. As a certified non-geek I take offence. "You can have complex systems that are easy to understand and operate in whereas this is never true of complicated systems."There is much vested interest (or many vested interests) in keeping things complicated. I quite like Annalie's point. Despite US Supreme Court decisions to the contrary corporations are not human. Personally, I'd go as far as to suggest they are anti-human. If there is a demand made upon corps to be more human – internally or externally – the default response is to retreat to the simple, through, say messaging, branding, document control, narrative ("we're a team", "we're a family") etc. I'm wondering if it is even possible for corporations to become more human – never mind any resistance from the humans in that org. I'm not being cynical, just wondering if the structural doesn't trump the spiritual (that's a clunky way to put it). "When you are in the mindset of "entity" you cannot imagine the company as a human…" this is very good and rings so true. I know I am almost reaching into wacky world here, but these 'entities' do seem to be almost magical in their powers. And if the rites and rituals were to be given up (in favor of blogging, say, or more generally transparency) power would dissolve. I've tried to introduce tools to corps on a number of occasions. I was always baffled by the resistance, the strongest resistance usually from the brightest in the group. Feigning technical incompetence and making suggestions that "people won't use that tool, it's too hard/unproductive" seemed reasonable objections. Just wondering if, really, these brights didn't instinctively understand the subversive nature of the tools themselves .

    Like

  7. I'd agree Tim about value being in the eye of the beholder but given that I wrote the post with Sharepoint in mind it doesn't seem to bring out the best in people.

    Like

  8. I think you are spot on with your analysis of the resistance Brian. Even if they can't articulate it a lot of those resisting new ways of doing things know deep down what is happening. I think current ideas of a corporate spring are probably wishful thinking but if you believe, as I do, that we are at the very beginning of a long period of fundamental change the problems Annalie rightly raises are surmountable. And just to explain the non geek comment it came from watching someone with their kids. They had to explain to her the very obvious iTunes button you press to rent a film and she says "Oh I don't understand computers"

    Like

  9. Hi Euan, great topic. One of the major challenges of UI design is that what is simple to some can be complex to others. Take the Mac UI for example, Mac fans will go on and on about how perfect it is, yet for many people (especially those coming from Windows) things like resizing windows only from the bottom right corner, the yellow/red/green window icons and the file menu always being at the top (instead of attached to the window) are difficult. In the 2.0 world people like to talk about software that requires no training, but that is total BS. Look at G+, for the first few weeks almost every post was about understanding how it works, what are circles, what happens when you block or mute, etc. And that was from all the smart techie early adopters.

    Like

  10. There's true art and mastery in making the complex simple .. and yes indeedy it's the addition or enabling of rich human exchange (as opposed to transactions) that demonstrates that art as a living form.

    Like

  11. "There's true art and mastery in making the complex simple." That's easy for you too, say Jon. You're walking about in Paris. 🙂

    Like

  12. Euan – At what point does complexity turn into chaos? I like the use of this analogy car key –> car–> traffic–>traffic in Lagoshttp://www.noop.nl/2008/08/simple-vs-complicated-vs-complex-vs-chaotic.htmlBut I think there is another dimension around how closely coupled a system is.Take the banking system that includes retail and investment banking – a very complex and tightly coupled system that has led to chaos. To simplify, you cannot remove the complexity but you can decouple it. Just a shame it's going to take 7 years!

    Like

  13. Really interesting to read all these comments – many thanks, Euan for this thought-provoking perspective.A couple of things come to mind when thinking about complexity and the (psychological) barriers we see when introducing employees to new social media. 1. HABITUATION TO NEW THINGS – TRAINING This, I suppose, is the barrier that managers tend to focus on — employees aren’t familiar with the interface and/or the activity, and they need to be ‘habituated to it’ if they are going to feel comfortable with it. This barrier is, to a great degree, tackled by providing training — most likely tailored because different user groups will have different training needs. For example: (a) Some employees will already understand the interfaces and the activities, perhaps because they use multiple social media tools out of work, enjoy contributing to (work/social) blogs, etc, and are quick to grasp new/similar interfaces.(b) Some may have little experience with social media tools beyond a weekly dip into Facebook and/or have little experience of active participation and generating content.And so on…Also, training would need to be about explaining to everyone not just the nuts and bolts of what it is, but also the ‘why’ —- what is the context for introducing these media and why will they be ‘good’? What part will using these media play in delivering the company/team objectives?And – crucial – why might the employees find them interesting/enjoyable to use? Some employees may enjoy using social media tools out of work, but be reticent to contribute in a work environment because, for example:—- 'Professional shyness' – they don’t know how widely their content will be published (“Will it go beyond the team I know and feel comfortable with?”, “Will I be laughed at?”)— They don’t know how their content will be used (“Will my best ideas be ‘stolen’?”, “How will my content influence my manager's perception of me and will it contribute to my performance review?")2. DON’T WORRY – IT ISN’T YET ANOTHER ADDITIONAL JOB RESPONSIBILITY!Managers often expect that once employees have had the training (ie the employees now understand the technology/activity, why they might enjoy doing it and the part they would play in achieving company objectives when they use the media), they’ll automatically be keen to get on and use it. Not necessarily so. Managers tend to forget that employees will resist taking on work that is additional to what they already have in their job description – particularly if it’s just thrust upon them — "These media are complex in that they are making my job more complex and harder to do in the time I have to do it!"Some social media are introduced purely (in the first instance) to help make the jobs that the employees do easier. This is something that would be properly explained and demonstrated during training, and would likely be welcomed by employees who have found their jobs difficult with the old tools. But – more likely – if the media are being introduced as a result of a change in the organisation’s strategic direction, it will mean adding whole new dimensions to the employees’ roles. And this probably means adding new activities to work schedules that are already (perceived by the employees to be) packed to the gills. Managers are hardly going to engage employees in these new (important) social media-led activities when the employees see it all as simply more work and longer hours.Managers will need to actively help their teams set aside the time they need to carry out their new social media-based activities. This may mean helping employees delegate the time-consuming admin jobs that are slowing them down. Or, if the new social media-based activities are to be so fundamental to an employee’s work that it will essentially mean a change in the nature of the role they perform, the manager may need to sit down with the employee to revise and agree a new job description, responsibilities, performance objectives/targets, etc.['Rewarding' employee participation and encouraging participation by example (ie leadership/managers participating themselves) may also be relevant here.]

    Like

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s