January 17

Everyone wants a quick solution. The temptation when doing creative work is to gravitate toward the very first idea that seems plausible. Mostly, this is because we want to alleviate the discomfort of uncertainty and have something to latch onto, whether because of time pressure or anxiety about not being up to the task. However, that very first solution—while seemingly workable—often doesn’t reflect the nuance of the problem. It’s not simple and elegant; it’s simplistic.

Simple ideas are ones that cannot be reduced any more without hampering effectiveness. Simplistic ideas are those that seem exciting on the surface but that don’t fully address the issue you’re trying to solve.

As you mature in your career, you begin to notice the subtle differences betweensimple and simplistic[1]. You may even develop a set of questions to help you see more clearly:

Does this idea solve the problem?

Can it be made simpler?

Does it overlook an important element of the problem?

Is my enthusiasm masking any of this idea’s weaknesses?

Could it be improved by adding one layer of complexity?

Questions like these can help you better evaluate an idea and ensure that you aren’t falling into the simple/simplistic trap.

Always aim for simplicity but shun simplistic solutions.

Is there an idea you’re pursuing that might be simplistic rather than simple and elegant?

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