Simple Not Simplistic

April 30, 2009  

People who play Personality Poker tell me that they love its simplicity.  But what they find most amazing is how this simple “game” can generate profound insights.

During a recent event, one participant commented that she learned more about herself and her team in 15 minutes than she had in her previous 15 years.

In today’s age of data-driven analysis, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that more data and more complexity lead to better results.

This is not always true.

I was chatting with Michael Wiederman, Professor of Psychology at Columbia College, this morning.  Michael did a fascinating podcast with me a while back.  Be sure to check it out.

When discussing the simplicity of Personality Poker, he responded:

“Simpler is good, as long as it’s valid/useful.   As an analogy, I recall a published study from several years ago in which a battery of all of the widely-used depression inventories were administered to the same group of people, along with some other questions. The best predictor of who was depressed?  The single question: ‘Are you depressed?’ So much for complexity.”

Common Innovation Myths

Where else do we fall prey to the belief that bigger is better?

  • More Ideas = Better Ideas.  Although free thinking is useful during the generation of creative ideas, if you are solving the wrong problem, all the ideas in the world won’t make a difference.
  • More Data = Better Customer Insights.  Data mining is the rage.  Unfortunately it only allows you to study your customers.  Quite often the greatest insights come from those who are not your customers — or those who were and no longer are.
  • More Goals = Better Results.  Goals are useful in moderation.  However, an obsession with outcomes often results in taking your eye off the present.  The result is worse performance.  Read my article on “The Performance Paradox” for more.

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I am a big believer that “Simplification is Innovation.”  Don’t confuse complexity with quality.  The greatest ideas are often the simplest.

P.S. I am reading Made to Stick…finally.  It is an excellent book on the stickiness of ideas.  Once again, we see that often the simplest ideas are the ones that stick best.

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6 Responses to “Simple Not Simplistic”

  1. Fred H Schlegel on May 3rd, 2009 8:44 pm

    Your point about data is well put. In addition to looking in the wrong place for inspiration, you can get trapped into thinking there is ‘an answer’ rather than realizing what you need is ‘a decision.’

  2. PTLdom on May 21st, 2009 5:22 am

    Be careful, don’t get for granted simplistic generalizations. In lots of cases the problem is not the problem but the symptom. Maybe it’s time to start a new era of “complexification”, as our wourld was born complex, to extract the patterns that will differentiate the achievable solutions.

  3. Stephen Shapiro on May 22nd, 2009 9:22 am

    Thanks Luis. I don’t think the correct answer is simplicity or complexity…it is the right tool for the right situation. Sometimes we like to over-complicate things. And other times we over-simplify. And I totally agree with your point on distinguishing symptoms from root causes. I have a whole series of blog entries on critical thinking that address these topics… http://www.steveshapiro.com/category/critical-thinking/

  4. Stephen Shapiro on May 22nd, 2009 9:29 am

    Fred, thanks for your comment. I like the distinction… “needing a decision” versus “thinking there is an answer.” I think in reality there is no reality. Therefore there is never AN answer…just a decision about which path to take.

  5. Javier on June 7th, 2009 2:54 pm

    The article was very interesting especially the common innovation myths.
    I realize that for example in engines yes to have more power and torque usually you need to have a bigger engine. But you can use technology as supercharging, turbo charging, and variable valve timming, along with low weight, high compression and others and you will have a powerfull engine in a compact size. But of course depending on the application. So that is a case in you can apply the bigger is not always better.

  6. Stephen Shapiro on June 10th, 2009 7:17 am

    Javier, thanks for your thoughts.