I recently stumbled across an article on TechCrunch by Tom Goodwin: "We're at peak complexity - and it sucks". The article reminded me of another blog post "Peak Complexity?" from George Mobus in January 2014, dealing with a similar topic but in a slightly different way. While Tom sees peak complexity in a business world, George looks at society in general and – to keep it simple – has a deep interest in understanding how the world works [sic]. Daunting thoughts.

Reducing Complexity

Running a consulting and software firm that deals with complexity is my daily business. Aligning customers' expectations along with staff skills and interests while keeping up with advances in technology keeps me busy most of the day. I have to pay attention to detail, break down the tasks and (lately) manage the evolution of our services.

Quite often I feel the best answer to a customer's request for a feature is to simply add it, perhaps along with a knob while replacing an icon or two. This will please my customer and my sales people, but it adds to the complexity of our solution. Given that we have the most powerful technology ever at our hands (or server rooms), adding an extra dialog to enhance the customer's user experience falls short of what we should do. Instead of designing a new feature, wouldn’t it be better to go back to the root cause of the request and fix it there? Shouldn't we build systems that adapt to the user rather than making the user adapt to our offering?

Streamlining Complexity

Think of Google - and their UI evolution. After Larry and Sergey started one of the most successful businesses in modern history, almost all innovation from then on happened behind the scenes and not on the application's UI itself. Unarguably the algorithms, the systems, the overall complexity of the solution evolved – but for the average person the system was never hard to use and still delivers astonishing results for virtually every question you may ask; even the answer to life, the universe and everything.

Conserving Complexity

Just as with the law of conservation of energy, I believe there's a law of conservation of complexity. Every problem requires a certain complexity to be solved. And if we – the solution providers – do not deal with the complexity, our customers will have to. If we want to make life (or the use of our products) easier, less complex and more enjoyable, we have to design better solutions and work harder to deliver results that are more accessible and more enjoyable to work with.

I want to believe Tom is right and we are at Peak Complexity. To oversimplify George's statement, we are better off with less complexity. Let us design smarter, less complex (to use) systems. Be innovative. And keep it simple.

PS: Kudos to you, if you've read both linked articles. Share your thoughts with me!

About the Author: Hendrik Siegeln is co-founder and Managing Director of Integration Matters.

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