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Simplicity unlocks a complex world
By Simen K. Frostad, Chairman
Published in In Broadcast, August 2014
What is the problem with complexity? We are all sophisticated higher primates with the ability to form and process abstract concepts, to evaluate subtle and diverse sense impressions, to plot a path and follow it in spite of many tempting alternatives.
Complexity is so much a fact of our lives that we can’t escape it, but we don’t want it to overwhelm us either. This has always been the case, even in times we might think of now as some kind of simpler golden age. Buddhism and Zen Buddhism have been around for millennia, and surely evolved as a way of finding calm and making sense of a world that was difficult to live in and easy to be confused by.
We are constantly looking for ways to remove obstacles to our progress, reduce the ‘noise’ of unwanted distractions and ideas, and focus on the ‘signal’ of our own purpose and thought. We want to be more efficient, and more effective.
The oriental martial arts offer an example of the power of simplicity amid complexity. The complexity is in the chaos and unpredictability of combat, and the simplicity is in the mind of the martial arts master. One such master taught his students that when they found themselves in a life-and-death situation they should immediately resolve on death. In this way, they would clear their minds of fear, hesitancy and doubt, their reactions would be sharper and their interventions more definite, and the result would be a greater chance of success in combat.
Most of us, fortunately, do not need to make such resolutions. But we can probably all agree that we feel better and more productive working at desk that’s clear and well organised than one piled high with jumbled papers, unsorted correspondence, empty coffee cups, and maybe a pair of trainers or a cycle helmet. It’s a bit of everyday ‘Zen’ we can all benefit from. We may be taking extremely difficult decisions at our desk, but somehow we seem to think more clearly.
Simplicity can be powerful in almost any situation. ‘The little black dress’ delivers the goods in a way a complicated piece of couture might never do. Picasso could take a single line for a walk for thirty seconds and make it depict a figure more vividly than most artists could in six weeks of intricate painting.
The underlying realities in both cases are no less complex; but our understanding of them is more immediate and more valuable to us because the complexities have been presented in a simple way. It takes insight and skill to engineer this.
But in our world, and in the complex world of digital media especially, simplicity really is the key to understanding.
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