Simplification is the Antithesis of Quality Thought

Oct 25, 2023

Einstein is (incorrectly) attributed to having said "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."1

Throughout history, those individuals who excelled at communicating complex topics to vast audiences were revered as the greatest educators, philosophers, and thinkers.

Yet, while simplification is helpful for communicating ideas, it sacrifices both nuance and detail—elements that are paramount for high quality thought.

Imagine you've stumbled into a grand hall and come across this fantastical mosaic of a lion.

Now, if you were asked to describe the image to your friend quickly, you might simply say, "It's a lion." That's the simplified explanation, and for those in a hurry, it gives a basic idea. But it doesn't capture the true beauty, intricacy, and nuance of the artwork. Plus, "It's a lion" could be interpreted in suboptimal ways.

As you move closer, you start to notice that the lion is made up of thousands, if not millions, of tiny tiles. Each tile has been deliberately chosen for its color, shade, and placement to contribute to the overall image. Some tiles capture the light, creating an illusion of depth and movement in the lion's mane. Others, with their darker shades, give depth to the lion's eyes, making them appear soulful and alive.

If you were to remove or change some tiles because you wanted to simplify the image further, you'd risk losing the depth, nuance, and details that make the mosaic truly breathtaking. The artwork's quality lies not just in the lion you see from a distance but in every single tile and the craftsmanship with which they've been arranged.

Similarly, when we simplify complex topics too much, we risk missing out on the intricate details and nuanced understanding that give the subject its depth and richness. Just as you wouldn't truly appreciate the mosaic by only acknowledging the lion, one can't truly grasp a topic without delving into its nuances and details.

My personal encounter with this timeless dilemma manifests in the act of writing.

Writing: A Tool for Thought Preservation

Writing affords me the ability to persist ideas through time. Every moment, ideas pass through my conscious as words, sounds, and moving images. Putting pen to paper lets me transfer those ideas in my nebulous stream of consciousness to the external world.

Writing requires energy to properly convey ideas in a manner that accomplishes the objective of the prose. Writing for yourself is much easier than writing for others, mainly because writing for yourself permits you to avoid providing all the details, since a lot of the nuance is contained in your brain.

Suppose you take a meeting with a client while jotting down notes on the side. They might look something like this:

Meeting with Jon - VP @ SF

- Liked onboarding screen demo

- Need to pull in Susan for final decision

- disliked red button

For a while, you can seamlessly decipher the context of these notes. Though few of your colleagues will be able to. Moreover, in 6 months, you will probably forget which "red button" the client was referring to. Also, what was Susan's role?

The problem is that these bullet points only convey high level details and epically fail to capture the nuance from the meeting. Not only does this simplification result in lower order thought, it can be outright dangerous in many circumstances.  

Now, had you honed the skill of distilling ideas without losing their essence, it's possible revisiting written pieces in the future would effortlessly recall the full context of your original thoughts. In other words, to fortify memory and foster quality thought, it's essential to write as if explaining to a broader audience. This isn't just a communication exercise but also a way to employ digital tools to accurately safeguard our thoughts for future recall.

A New Lens for Thought

Unlike our predecessors, we possess digital tools that can capture the complexity in our work beyond the limitations of the human brain.2 We can seamlessly tie ideas to a point in time, a location, and even append other data modalities which augment the quality of our work. This digital augmentation is akin to providing an artist with a magnifying glass, allowing them to intricately place each tile in a mosaic, ensuring that the greater picture and every minute detail are perfectly aligned and captured.

These advancements are transformative. They allow us to transcend the challenges of preserving nuanced thoughts even when we aim for simplification. But the power of these tools isn't merely in capturing complexity; it's in their ability to make this complexity accessible and tangible.

Just as an artist revisiting a mosaic can recall why each tile was placed, we too, with our modern digital tools, can revisit and fully understand our past thoughts, ideas, and decisions. The digital realm, in this sense, is our canvas, where we not only store ideas but imbue them with depth and richness.

In the very near future, as these tools become even more sophisticated, we'll be equipped to retain and interact with the vastness and richness of our thoughts. We'll appreciate the complex patterns, not just as mere representations, but as faithful depictions of our intricate ideas. Thus, technology will stand as an ally, enabling us to embrace complexity and detail as integral components of quality thought, rather than as challenges to overcome.



© Copyright 2024 Zenfetch.

© Copyright 2024 Zenfetch.

© Copyright 2024 Zenfetch.