Explain It To Me
Like I’m A Six-Year-Old
(I’m writing something every day for #100days. This is post 49/100.)
“When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem.
Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop…
But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem — and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works.”
- Steve Jobs
As you move up the decision-making hierarchy in an organisation, you encounter increasingly complex problems.
This complexity is compounded in larger organisations where the speed of change is slower.
Sometimes it feels like you’re an aging heavyweight boxer throwing haymakers at a swarm of bees.
One of the first things that gets lost in that context is simplicity.
Everything is inter-connected. Every action to solve a problem in one area causes a reaction in some other area of the organisation, sometimes unexpectedly.
If you believe that complexity is solvable, a valuable rubric is to try and reduce every problem into something that a six-year old would understand.
Most people on the outside of problems over-estimate their how easy they are to solve.
When they start digging in, and pulling apart the tangle of knots, they stop and give up. They settle for the complexity, leaving a piled of ropes on the floor.
Think of every long corporate email or powerpoint deck you’ve seen. That bombardment of terrible english, those hours of rambling, undirected waffle.
That’s the output of settling for complexity.
Choosing the alternate path, and not settling for complexity, is hard work. It’s time consuming. It makes people uncomfortable. It uncovers harder questions and forces confrontation with real truths.
But if we believe the organisations we build can run better, simplicity is a necessity for progress.
By reaching for that standard — making things simple enough that you could explain them to a six-year old — we can start to make sense of the mess.
So. Start again.
Explain it to me like I’m a six-year-old.