Keep it Simple…

Of all the timeless principles drilled into us during the MBA, “keep it simple stupid” (or KISS) is the one that still catches me off guard. It can be marketing, accounting, strategy – but it seems we all have a tendency to desire complexity when sometimes simplicity is the best solution. And once, reminded to keep it simple, I marvel at how obvious the solution was and then wade back into the world of complexity. But maybe that’s the trick, life is so complex sometimes we have trouble believing anything worth doing can be described as simple.

Now, by extension, there are also highly qualified people toiling away at tasks and approaching it as a highly complex problem, and therefore misusing themselves and their resources. Or possibly, there are highly qualified people toiling away at highly complex tasks without little avail, but leaving the relatively simple tasks aside, denying them the benefit of their resource. This misallocation is a burden of our education of thinking big, to aim for the largest prize ignoring the odds of success, and it is baggage we carry in every endeavor we do.

Combating this, there have been many movements to push us in the opposite direction, the most popular of them being the “Think Globally, Act Locally” movement. Ironically enough, I encountered this phrase first in a strategy class, but it’s origins underpin an environmental movement to mobilize large groups of people to make small contributions, and hence, make a big impact. It’s an important phrase and has undoubtedly done a lot of good, but I have never been very moved by it. Possibly it is because it has been corrupted in strategy class, or maybe the simplicity of it annoys the side of me yearning for complexity – who knows, but the message is too important to be tossed aside.

Then I stumbled onto an idea from Matthew Yglesias, more or less preaching a value I see practiced everyday, everywhere – procrastination. Tackle the easy ideas first – pick the low hanging fruit. He presents a simple model with two considerations; the importance of the issue and the odds of success. This can be interpreted two ways – one example in the article is creating an Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, a city previously devoid of any cultural institution. Low importance factor, yet highly simple and successful. Within this framework, he includes an entrepreneur that funds viable social businesses. This falls into the model as well as the complexity has already been ironed by the venture firm.

More recently, Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark’s drastically underfunded public school system exemplifies this principle.

By no means am I advocating diverting resources from the global causes that continue to plague us – but the overwhelming greatness of these issues can leave us stumbling, failing to act, a wasted resource. At the same time, there exist millions of relatively minor injustices that are infinitely solvable, and therefore could be solved. Shifting our focus towards those issues within our reach, whether our contribution be in the form of capital or in our toil, will aggregate into a good that the whole world can share. Then we will truly be Thinking Globally, Acting Locally.