Simple things

As the story goes, Russian cosmonauts chose a humble wooden pencil to use in spacecrafts when the American peers were spending millions in designing a pen which can withstand the zero-gravity of spacecraft. (The story is a myth). Whatever, the punchline is in the simplicity.

When ALM solutions try to oversell, a simple good whiteboard can do the job. And better. Even if you ignore the team jellyness it brings as well as all the benefits of visual boards. (Not to say ALM or project management solutions don’t have a place, but yes, they don’t always have a place).

Kevin Mayer, on his excellent post, points out how a run to staples (to get sticky notes) can do a better job than any expensive software solution. The obvious message is to restrain yourself.

Agile manifesto principles says “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential”. Rings with Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s thought on perfection – “… but when there is nothing left to take away”.

Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist‘ starts with the byline – “If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do?”.

It tells a story on Boeing bombers:

On October 30, 1935, at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers vying to build its next-generation long-range bomber….Boeing’s plane could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested; it could fly faster than previous bombers, and almost twice as far. A Seattle newspaperman who had glimpsed the plane called it the “flying fortress,” and the name stuck.

But the plane crashed on its first attempt to take off.

An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash had been due to “pilot error,” the report said. The complexity overwhelmed the pilot.

The Boeing model was deemed, as a newspaper put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly.

Why do we keep the monster machines running?

Sometimes plain lack of intelligence (Howard Gardner’s selective/multiple intelligence) or empathy or aesthetics. Or sometimes to justify our needs. Or fear. Lizard brain. Sometime believing in what we are taught to believe. How can there be simple solution to complex problem?.

(This is not to say all problems can be solved simply. Most problems, I guess, in development economics fall in this category. Einstein’s  “…no simpler...” can be complex enough)