Two kinds of people: complexifiers and simplifiers

There are several thousand ways to complete the sentence “There are two kinds of people, those that…” And in case the universe wouldn’t be complete without another, here’s one more.

There are two kinds of people: people that make things complex and people that simplify.

Complexifiers are averse to reduction. Their instincts are to turn simple assignments into quagmires, and to reject simple ideas until they’re buried (or asphyxiated) in layers of abstraction. These are the people who write 25 page specifications when a picture will do and send long e-mails to the entire team when one phone call would suffice. When they see x=y, they want to play with it and show their talents, taking pleasure in creating the unnecessary (23x*z = 23y*z). They take pride in consuming more bandwidth, time, and patience than needed, and expect rewards for it.

Simplifiers thrive on concision. They look for the 6x=6y in the world, and happily turn it into x=y. They never let their ego get in the way of the short path. When you give them seemingly complicated tasks they simplify, consolidate and re-interpret on instinct, naturally seeking the simplest way to achieve what needs to be done. They find ways to communicate complex ideas in simple terms without losing the idea’s essence or power.

I don’t know what makes a person fall into either pile (genetics, habit, experience?), but I do know I’d much rather spend my time with the simplifiers than the complexifiers. Don’t you think all the good designers, programmers, writers, philosophers and teachers you’ve known fit into the simplifer group?

80 Responses to “Two kinds of people: complexifiers and simplifiers”

  1. Jim

    “When they see x=y, they want to play with it and show their talents, taking pleasure in creating the unneccesary (23x*z = 23y*z). ”

    In (23x*z = 23y*z), when z=0, then the values of x and y are illrelevant. I am guessing that this means that complexifiers not only waste other people’s times, but introduce errors when there were none before.

    Reply
  2. Dawn Barber

    Face it, we all share “Factoids” and like to be percieved as erudite (hey, I fit that word in – funny the root of the word is “rude”).

    I think complexifiers get a kick out of learning about little-known bits of human existence and knowledge. But, there is a time and place for it.

    Unfortunately, they seem to be innocent or unaware of the negative effects in the workplace. I work with a BA who fits this pattern. He really enjoys sharing ALL that he’s learned. He is a risk to our project timelines (he spent over 7 hours presenting his Requirements Review with the team). I think he can discuss “The Theory of…” on his own time – not while 12 other people are in the room.

    Enjoy something useful:
    Elements of Style (William Strunk, Jr.)

    “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

    Reply
  3. Neil Raitt

    i think there are more than 2 types of people in the world. simplifiers and complexifiers are two extreme groupings of people who exist amongst millions of others who fit into thier own individual groups comprising of various different levels of complexity and simplicity. your theory is an over-simplification of something that is too complex for you to understand.

    Reply
  4. Muck cel mic

    There are only two kinds of people: simplifiers, and complexifiers are of many more kinds.

    Reply
  5. Muck cel mic

    There are only two kinds of people: simplifiers and… oh, no, there are more kinds!

    Reply
  6. Tod

    There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think you can reduce all people into two categories (they are called managers) and those who think categorizing all the people in the world into two categories is absurd (they are called philosophers – usually called so by managers). Get a sharper stick guys!

    Reply
  7. Eric

    A good simplifier knows when to sweat the details to find the simplicity.

    Reply
  8. Mary J Baird-Wilcock

    “I believe that the real simplifier is a person who understands the complexity of the problem but also has the skill to be able to reduce it into relatively easily understood terms.”

    We believe in that wholeheartedly. Our company (coincidentally) is called The Simplifiers, a full service event planning and personal concierge agency in Austin, TX, was founded in 2003 on this very same principle.

    While yes, there may be more than two types of folks in the world, we find that most people wouldn’t mind having a Simplifier help ’em out every now and again.

    Thanks for the blogpost…good food for thought!

    http://www.thesimplifiers.com

    Reply
  9. David

    The devil is not in the detail -it’s in looking at too much detail as the same time. Detail is not the sample as complexity. We simplify a problem be breaking it up into smaller, simple chunks. Isn’t this what we call functional decomposition?

    Reply
  10. David

    Sorry, some typos
    The devil is not in the detail -it’s in looking at too much detail at the same time. Detail is not the sample as complexity. We simplify a problem by breaking it up into smaller, simple chunks. Isn’t this what we call functional decomposition?

    Reply
  11. John

    I prefer to look at which form holds a more succinct truth to the expression being represented.
    If something cannot be fully expressed due to it’s required elements,then usually it warrants being complex, because there is no simple way to express it.
    what we really should be addressing is whether or not the information is superfluous and contributes to it being more complex then is needed.

    Reply
  12. David Locke

    In reading something of the history of graph theory, Erdos created the base case of random links. Simple, yes, but off the market. Still mathematicians build up maths from these base cases. Subsequent mathematicians discovered that link counts fell into three regions, and that one brought about emergent behavior. Science continuously simplifies, but it may take much learning to arrive at the simple.

    In reading a book on non-standard analysis, the author created an interesting system and then brought the properties of the reals to it. In doing so, he demonstrated a technique, the steps necessary to give a system the common properties of all number systems. Yes, the symbology was complex, but the approach simplified how I will see similar mathematics in the future. Still, a few months ago, the symbology would have been off putting. I needed to learn much before I could enter the subject. I was always on the surface of mathematics culture. Now, I can enter deeper into it.

    Knowing the background, entering into how one thinks about things leads the individual to the simple by teaching one how to handle the complexity.

    Reply
  13. JR Chew

    I really enjoyed this article. Also, Chris Ereneta’s comment solidified my understanding of the situation I am in right now.

    “The best leaders surround themselves with complexifiers, and ask them to do the heavy lifting in research, development, and analysis.”

    Reply
  14. Rudra

    Love the classification – my manager love “simple” we drive to the “lazy” principle i.e. if there’s anything in our universe at work that we do each day/week/month that can be made into something that is simple and repeatable let’s focus on that NOW so that we can get it out of our way.

    Reply
  15. Brian

    If I may complexify your analysis just a bit: the third type of person is the “optimizer”. In this context, the optimizer chooses the most appropriate position along the simple/complex continuum in order to get the job done. Oversimplification often leads to bad decisions while overcomplexification often leads to inefficient execution. For any analysis, presentation, communication, equation, whatever, why not think about it for a minute and choose the right level of complexity?

    Reply
    1. Bob

      Judging by this reply, you are so a complexifier ;)

      Reply
  16. Weave

    There are two kinds of “Simplifiers;” Occam’s Razor people and Expediters.
    The Occam’s Razor people pleasantly laser beam the disease with a cure.
    Expediters just want the problem to go away so they can get on with something else.
    The latter can be quite ruinous at times.

    Reply
  17. Susan Weiner, CFA

    I love this line from this post: “Simplifiers thrive on concision. They look for the 6x=6y in the world, and happily turn it into x=y.”

    Reply

Pingbacks

  1. […] Scott Berkun writes that there are two kinds of people in the world: simplifiers and complexifiers. Complexifiers are averse to reduction. Their instincts are to turn simple assignments into quagmires, and to reject simple ideas until they’re buried (or asphyxiated) in layers of abstraction. […] They take pride in consuming more bandwidth, time, and patience than needed, and expect rewards for it. […]

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