The Risk of Oversimplificiation

Have you ever noticed how when something is simplified enough that it doesn’t intimidate people, people start to have a lot more opinions?

It makes sense that people who aren’t rocket scientists shouldn’t make recommendations on rocket ship designs.  But as complexity is reduced, two problems often arise:

  1. People start to make recommendations on things they shouldn’t, due to nuances or context they don’t understand
  2. People spend entirely too much time talking about details that aren’t important

aws_dashboardProblem #1 can be very dangerous.  I was discussing today how technologies like cloud hosting feel so accessible that people often make decisions where they don’t really understand the associated impacts and decisions.  Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a great dashboard that lets AWS users see all their cloud-based infrastructure. This dashboard is very powerful in the right hands, but often makes non-technical decision makers feel like they can manage their organization’s IT infrastructure, without realizing the impact of not having redundant systems, data backups, and disaster recovery solutions in place. (Note:  If you’re looking for AWS cloud expertise, check out JHC Technology or Halfaker.)

Problem #2 can also be very damaging to organizations — organizations sometimes spend shedtoo much time talking about what color the walls of their new office space should be, instead of what they should focus on strategically next year.  This concept is known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality (Bicycle Shed Principle).  They call it the Bicycle Shed principle because of a story told by Mr. Parkinson about when decision makers charged with designing a nuclear power plant focused most of their time on what materials should be used to build a storage shed. (Thanks Ramit Sethi for introducing me to this concept.)

Watch out for both cases — it’s important for decision makers to be aware of where their expertise ends and where their attention should be invested.  Note:  A leader shouldn’t avoid areas outside of their expertise, but they should realize when they need to focus on certain parts of a decision, or when they need to rely on internal or external experts.

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