KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid*
*Or, Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should
**And, Don’t Poke a Sleeping Dragon
I didn’t come up that pithy KISS title. It comes from the U.S. Navy in 1960 and was used to encourage deep thinking, elegant and logical solutions to complex problems.
In the 1950’s, International Business Machines used a guiding principle throughout their increasingly complex company: Think. The word was mounted on walls, displayed on desks, used in conversation.
I did come up with “Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should.” What a useful phrase! It works as well with advising a wayward toddler as it does a teenager with folded arms atttitude. It would also be useful when talking with a friend anguished over yet another inevitable romantic breakup and thinking that one more desperate text is a good thing to do. It sounds so familiar that it must have been background noise when I was growing up.
What’s more, flipping the idea around works a little: Because you can’t means you shouldn’t. I can’t become an Olympic-level grand slalom skier, therefore I shouldn’t. It is perhaps best, in fact, because I don’t ski and I’m afraid of heights.
Last week, I was kicked out of Medium with no warning, no explanation. If it hadn’t been for active, engaged reader friends, I never would have found out, never had to venture into the Medium support zone, never gotten riled up, never thought deeply about why I’m here, what Medium does for me, and what I do for Medium.
I got caught in the spam filter. Why and how this happened was never explained. I’m learning now that this has happened to others and that Tech Support is very good at addressing the symptom. My problem was taken care of and so I should continue on as I was doing, right?
“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L.Mencken
The problem is that I can’t stop thinking about it. Nothing has changed — or at least, I haven’t been let in on it. For all I know, this strange event can happen again or another even wilder, stranger incident might erupt.
The dragon has been awakened.
The dragon does not require nor respect order, authority, protocol. The dragon creates its own logic, its own order. The dragon nods appreciatively with its wise dragon head at writer Tom Robbins’ statement that “True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.”
The dragon wants and needs a quest.
The dragon shivers with delight at Tom Robbins’ observation that “We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.” The dragon roars with furious joy at how everyday heroes will topple at the sight of its dragon hero self.
What is all this nonsense about dragons and heroes and simple and stability and order? What does any of this have to do with a technical glitch that was fixed?
In a word, it has everything to do with the impenetrable thickets between writer and reader. It has everything to do with an increasingly loud, fraught, complex and complicated world.
We can do so much better.
Let’s give the dragon a worthy quest.
A dragon is simple. It loves what it loves, does what it does. Once its quest is determined, nothing will keep it from pursuing that quest with every bit of dragon genius. Dragons think long and hard and fast and deep about what is genuinely important and valuable with every aspect of dragon mind, heart, body, and spirit and then they go after it tenaciously, creatively, admirably.
Here’s a mission worthy of a dragon: Start with Albert Einstein’s observation that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. It is always the simple that produces the marvelous.” Mash that up with a comment from Charles Mingus “Making the simple is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
Then, apply it to the everyday. There is no complacency, no happy satisfaction that something can be crammed into process and procedure, made automatic and systematic, and never examined, assessed, analyzed. It’s perfect as it is. Why should anyone mess with success?
Always mess with success. If you’re doing anything worthwhile, you want to improve, to learn, to advance, to grow. Success in even the smallest part of a larger mission is never a permanent plateau, never an item to check off on the long list of things to do. Nothing is ever solidified and forever, perfect, automatic.
I’m messing with my own missions, making friends with my own dragon. I would encourage Medium and all enterprises that want to thrive to do the same.
Start with something small; when something goes wrong, advise the user what you are going to do to solve the root cause. Apologize and make spectacular amends — using the problem as an opportunity to win a devoted missionary for your enterprise.
Disrupt yourself, learn, grow, advance — or make way for dragons…
“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs