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?

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

  1. Chris Mear

    True to an extent, but I also come across plenty of people who ‘simplify’ by glossing over important details, which then come back to bite you in the ass a month later.

    As a hyperbolic example, here’s a simple brief: “Build me an operating system.” It’s certainly simple! But does that make it better than a more detailed (and hence more complex) spec of what that OS should be like? I don’t think so.

    There are several different kinds of simple, and you have to be clear about what you mean. Simplicity by pure omission is dangerous, in my opinion. But simplicity in knowledge by the discovery of underlying patterns, or simplicity in execution through the application of clever techniques can be a beautiful thing.

    However, sometimes it’s only by embracing complexity for a moment that you uncover underlying patterns and good simplifications.

  2. Richard Cunningham

    I strive for simple elegance. However, one must respect the balance “making [things] as simple as possible, but no simpler.” I believe Albert Einstein gets credit for that expression.

  3. trying to be a simplifier

    In my experience, the complexifiers are usually the insecure types that are either afraid that someone will find out that they are replaceable or not necessary. The simplifers are the one’s who are confident and secure in their knowledge and not afraid to pass information on to other people in fear of them taking their jobs or outperforming them.

  4. Werner

    Scott, if you would have to come up with 5 interview questions to try and figure out in which category the candidate belongs to, what would those questions be?

  5. emily

    As a recovering complexifier, I hope I can provide some insight here. I think I start out trying to represent the underlying complexity of the thing I’m supposed to address/solve and move from there, sometimes very, very slowly. Every day, I strive for things to be simpler and yes, I do reach out to a simplifier to help, as there’s only so far I can get to simplicity by myself, but some things *are* complex and I don’t think I have any ego about the Rube Goldberg constructions I occasionally dream up. I’m just trying to understand the problem and put out a strawman solution. I am not wholly averse to reduction, but I am wholly averse to gross simplification of areas where the expected solution should have some logic as well as some elegance behind it.

    I also think sometimes people have to swim through the muck of complexity to reach the path of simplicity. I spend my days traveling from a muddled cloudy mess to shapely squres about any number of issues. The muddle is complexity and the squares are, I hope, simplicity. I don’t have it intuitively and am in fact quite jealous of the people who see the world in right angles all the time.

    Two potentially pro-complexity thoughts for you:
    – Any complex problem has a simple solution … usually the wrong one. (HL Mencken)
    – If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter. (Pascal)

  6. Scott (admin)

    Werner: Great question. I need to think about it more to give a solid answer, but I’ll throw this one out there for fun.

    I don’t think I’d need five if it’s in the context of software/engineering type work: I could do it in two (or so I’d bet :).

    1) I’d ask them to describe a project they worked on – on pure ego alone, some people make tiny projects seem enormous or overstate their involvement. Talking with them about the details and exactly what they did should reveal if they’re making more out of what they did, minimizing work they should be proud of, or (gasp) accurately representing what was done.

    2) I’d give them a complex, but solvable problem. After they’ve solved it (even with help) I’d ask them to find a simpler solution to the same problem. If they’re a simplifier they’ll be into this – even if they don’t suceed they’ll be self motivated about seeking out a simpler way. If they’re complexifiers, they’ll balk at the suggestion that a simpler way exists and that it’s even worth their time to find it.

    I think some complexifier’s behavior is explained by ego and insecurity – they feel if they can’t point to layers and piles of work, they have nothing to be proud of. Or worse, that because their work is inherently bad, they need to bury it under layers so no one will notice (I’ve worked with many programmers whose work seemed based on this singular drive).

  7. Scott (admin)

    Chris: I agree on all points. I think the key line in the simplifier description is “seeking the simplest way to achieve what needs to be done”. If it doesn’t do what’s needed, it’s too simple.

  8. bob ashley

    The question itself, has been posed from a simplifier’s frame, i.e., the world is simply comprised of two basic types of people. Right away, then, the simplifier wrests control of the debate. Culturally, we heroize the simplifiers a la the ‘man of few words’, no-nonsense, Clint Eastwood, bottom-liners. But these portraits, both of simplifier and of complexifier are simplistic caricatures.

    Was Hamlet just a dupe, then, in his assertion to Horatio, “There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy?”

    I’d suggest that complexity and simplicity are modalities which because both exist, demand fluid thinking, flexible action, weaving between them. One minute we are Aristotle, reflective, hesitant, curious, perhaps even ponderous. But the next we become the archer with a burning focus on one thing, the target.

    We need both and…not either or. Think of a Wayne Gretzsky or a Mohammed Ali, both masters of the intricate complexities of their respective rinks/rings, but both masters of the simple result, the goal and the knockout.

    To caricaturize either of these athletes as complexifiers or simplifiers is to miss the possibility of mastery in both modes.


  9. Owen Lystrup

    “Complexifiers are adverse to reduction.”

    It’s “averse.” Adverse comes from the outside. Averse from within yourself.

    And I think you’re partially right. I don’t think making things more complex or more simple is what makes a person’s personality. But between the two, I think people usually tend to do one or the other.

  10. Factory

    “There are two kinds of people”
    The problem with these dichotomous statements is that:
    1) They have the unfortionate tendacy to deify one side and demonise the other. The one in the article is quite strong in this regard, Complexifiers are bad, Simplifiers are good.
    2) Do ppl fall neatly into the above two categories, if it’s hard to tell what group most ppl are in, then it’s not much of a useful division.
    3) Is this division really that useful in determining whether one is good at what one is doing or not?

    It should be noted that the more affectations one ascribes to each group the harder it is to find ppl that fill all the affectations, and the less useful it becomes as a descriptive division.

  11. Scott (admin)

    Well, the best variation on the theme, in the end, is this one:

    There are two kinds of people, those that think there are two kinds of people, and those that don’t.

  12. jb

    No, the best variation is “There are 10 kinds of people, those who understand binary, and those who don’t”

  13. Art D

    “True genius is the simple expression of complex ideas.”
    Albert Einstein

  14. Skippy Wassermann

    Yeah, sure, there are simple people and complex people.

    Oh, that isn’t what you meant at all, huh?

  15. chris ereneta

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

    The worst surround themselves with simplifiers and then go and invade Iraq.

  16. LaVaca

    I love the “meta” qualities of this discussion. Is the “2 kinds of people” answer over-simplified? Some of us think so, and if you expand it past a certain point, then yes.

    But it’s a simple way of expressing a complex idea.

    And it’s fun to see where we fall in the simplifier-complexifier spectrum.

  17. Scott (admin)

    Someone recently e-mailed me a great comment. He compared complexifiers and similifiers to analysis and synthesis. The point being that as long as you are using both forces, you do want to dig in and understand all of the complex details, but then at some point you want to try and reduce and simplify.

    This pairing of concepts, analysis and synthesis, was something I read about in architecture design literature, but I don’t recall where I read it. Anyone familiar with this concept or have any references?

  18. Dustin

    You can see this theory at work just in the replies here.

  19. jeff

    As a simplifier and organizer, I think the complexifiers have been seriously insulted with use of words like “quagmire” and “asphyxiated”. In our organization there is complete respect for both: those who add information, those who subtract and those who can do both. Since we work with really dense urban planning issues we need both. So do most business (exepct strip clubs, who only need simplifiers).

    This is the same oversimplification of argument that only early risers succeed. They don’t think about the people working on smart, smart things through the night.

  20. michael j talarczyk

    i’m not familiar with architecture (at least, not the concrete kind,) but synthesis is the result of dialectic, the pairing of thesis and antithesis to create a new solution.

    The Programmer’s Stone offers a description of “mappers” and “packers” that might provide more perspective here. it may be that simplifiers, as you call them, are analogous to mappers in that they possess and utilize far more effective mental models (an abstract and internal set of concepts,) and thus may be far less inclined to express that complexity externally.

    “he who knows, does not speak. he who speaks, does not know.”

  21. courtney seckner

    The Devils in thee Details..

    I think there is room for both, simpliers don’t look at the big picture. Sometimes things don’t need to be as complex as we make them, but not looking at every single detail makes things like Irag War happen.

  22. cm

    Since “simple” and “complex” can have positive or negative connotations, perhaps it is more to the point to describe these traits as falling on a continuum between “underdescribing” and “overdescribing”. The goal of course is to always describe using the appropriate number of details.

    What is that appropriate number? I think it should have two features:

    1) Each detail is relevant to the system being described, and relevant over some threshold of saliency (otherwise all details of the universe can be made to be, however indirectly, relevant).

    2) No detail is repeated.

    I’d also emphasize that this is a continuum, with few people achieving the mastery of proper description, though it is a goal to always aim for.

  23. alv

    Well, long ago a crazy psychologist tried to teach us: you should know to whom and when to ask a question. Sometimes the simplifiers give teh best answer, sometimes I need a more detailed explanation they will never give me.

  24. stacysaw

    The Exit Wound Theory

    I’ve just spent about 6 hours building maps, spreadsheets, and a presentation explaining the step-by-step flow of a project intake phase. Yep – just the part where we shake hands with a client and find out how our Web creative team may be able to help them. Am I complexifying?

    Not at all – this team has hired me to come in and do just these sorts of jobs because they’ve lost a lot of money due to their “simplified” (read – nonexistent) development process. Designers are flying without a net; Garbo-like developers are incommunicado in the face of tight deadlines; managers are rushing clients through intake meetings and missing the critical points of a project.

    It’s a good demonstration of the Exit Wound Theory – a small puncture on the front of the body can leave a gaping hole on the back from which you bleed to death. By complexifying 3 people, a phone call, a meeting and a work order agreement into 6 people, a Visio chart, two forms, 10 business days and a PowerPoint I think we can bulletproof the majority of the project cycle.

    Complexify now, simplify later?

  25. dcypl

    I’m with Stacysaw,

    If I don’t flesh out the issues, (complexify now), it will come back to bite later, ie cost overruns, unhappy client etc.
    But I agree with you Scott that a person who can simplify the discussion of these issues makes it much easier to move forward, just don’t know about simplifying the characteristic simplifies it beyond its intended usefulness.

  26. Adrianne

    Perhaps a more accurate statement would be:

    “There are four kinds of people:

    Type 1. People who SEEM to make things more complex INITIALLY by choosing to take the path to a solution that is the slightly longer rout*, but that ultimately leads closest to what we’ll call “The Most Excellent Solution” the first time around.

    * (This rout is slightly longer b/c it chooses to brave the tangled mess of complexity and attempts to loosen the formidable web of complication for a bit before it moves to reduction & simplification.)

    This type is not exactly averse to reduction all together, but rather, averse to reduction of A VERSION OF THE PROBLEM that they recognize will not yield the best solution. In other words, this type would prefer to venture into complexity if it means being able to reduce a more pure form of the problem when possible or recognizable, rather than a slightly inaccurate, corrupted, or incorrectly-pared-down version.

    Type 2. Those who complexify in part or in whole, NOT for the sake of eventually getting to a better/more accurate/more excellent solution, but rather for the sake of complification itself — usually, as the author asserts, in order to assuage insecure feelings or pander to the ego.

    Type 3. Those who simplify and do it well, consolidating, concising, and re-interpreting with the best of them. These types sometimes get to “The Most Excellent Solution” and sometimes only get to “A Good/Decent Solution” depending on the actual complexity of the original problem. The more complex the problem, the more likely they’ll just reach “Good & Decent”; the more simple the problem, the more likely they’ll come close to reaching “A Most Excellent Solution.”

    Type 4. Those who also thrive on concision, but lack either the ambition or the intelligence to recognize when important subtleties of a problem have been compromised. These types are either willing to, or tend to, unconsciously sacrifice/corrupt the essence of a problem in the name of simplification. They can sometimes get to “A Good/Decent Solution” but almost never come close to reaching “A Most Excellent Solution.”

    Some notes on these types:

    Type 1, when asked to find a simpler solution to a problem they’ve just solved, would naturally balk at the idea that it is worth their time to find a simpler way, since the method they just employed to solve it was SPECIFICALLY designed NOT to have to be done again. They took the longer and slightly more arduous rout (navigating the complexity first, doing some partial over-complification initially, in order to simplify from the most pure, or less corrupted starting point) in order to get closest to “A Most Excellent Solution” the FIRST time around. This type probably places great value on “overall efficiency” (as opposed to “short term efficiency”) so to do the problem again would be defeating the whole purpose of their originally chosen ‘problem-solving strategy’.

    Type 2 might balk at the suggestion that a simpler way exists, as the author suggests, because of reasons related to their ego and insecurity.

    A Simplifier (both Types 3 & 4), on the other hand, will eagerly do the problem again, because this type will recognize that with their initial problem-solving strategy and run-through, they left many aspects of the problem and solution uncharted, so there IS naturally more room to do it again in a better way, a second or third or even fourth time.

    Some Simplifiers (either Types 3s or Type 4s) feel disdain for Complexifiers because they either
    A.) lack the intelligence to, or simply aren’t able to, pick out and recognize the elegance in a path to an Excellent Solution if it surpasses their mental threshold of complexity-tolerance, or
    B.) feel insecure or ashamed about their own lack of ambition (read: laziness) when it comes to expending the extra effort to traverse the webs of complexity involved in a given problem. These people shy away from or get easily overwhelmed by overly- complex aspects of a given problem, (they can handle SOME complexity, but have a lower threshold for it than some of the Complexifiers) and would rather skip over and ignore these aspects completely when deriving their solution, in order to arrive at a “Good/Decent Solution” rather than to brave the complexity in order to arrive at a “Better / More Excellent Solution.” In other words, they’d rather put in just as much effort as needed to get to a Good/Decent Solution the first time, and then go back several times later with the same strategy to improve their solution as needed.

    It should be noted that both types could potentially arrive at an equally-as-best solution to a given problem, it’s just that one type would tend to take one long rout and reach their ultimate solution after expending lots of time/other forms of energy-output the first time, while the second type would tend to take a short rout, and reach their first solution comparatively quickly, using less time/other forms of energy-output. However, they’d then reach a second solution by the same means, and then perhaps a third. Ultimately, both Types’ final solutions could potentially be Equally-As-Best, it’s just that the first one has a better chance of being more overall efficient.

    So, which is the better Type to be?

    All Types obviously have their benefits and downsides. I’d first wager to say that neither type is better suited for ALL problems, nor is either type better suited even for a MAJORITY of the problems. In fact, perhaps the USEFUL distinction is actually NOT between kinds of people, but kinds of PROBLEMS. Perhaps…
    There are two types of PROBLEMS in the world: 1. Those whose best solution is derived by a Simplifier and 2. Those whose best solution is derived by a Complicator.

    So, in terms of this discussion, obviously the best skill to have would be the ability to either evaluate or recognize how perfect/accurate/excellent a given problem’s solution actually NEEDS to be, and then to be able to switch back and forth (between Types 1 and 3) appropriately. (I guess that sort of creates a need to recognize a type 5* then, huh?)

    * Those who BOTH simplify well AND complexify well, appropriately as needed.

    My theory, I guess, is that this Type 5 is not generally an inherent Type that exists, but a Type that can be attained by diligent pursuance by any of the above-delineated Four Types. (My guess would be that probably less than 1% of the population would ever reach this Type. I think the majority of the population will always fall victim to over-applying their Type’s tendencies to ALL problems MOST the time.


    And THAT, my friends, is probably a text-book example of an analysis that the author would consider COMPLEXIFIED. I broke down his solution of The Two Types, and created The Four (*Five!). Here at hand is something very valuable… Two solutions to the exact same problem: one done in a quintessentially “Simplifier” manner, and one done in a quintessentially “Complexifier” manner. I suppose everyone can decide for themselves which analysis is the more useful/appropriate. ;o)

    Not to sway anyone’s opinions, ;o) but I do think it worthwhile to point out that while the Simplifier did come up with the good, solid, simple solution of breaking down problem-solvers into Two Types, his solution was “Good/Decent” at best. It does the job well, but doesn’t quite reach the level of exactness and accuracy (arguably, of course!) as this Complixifier’s solution does. His “Simplifier” solution creates a useful and decently-accurate model of “types of problem solvers” but it misses the subtle but important distinctions that my “Complexifier” solution addresses. The Simplifier probably arrived at his Good/Decent Solution the first time around — and comparatively quickly — but would have had to re-structure and re-vise the solution several times over in order to eventually fine-tune its accuracy.*

    Secondly, within the comments, the author (which, as you’ve noticed, I have thus far used as a text-book example of a Simplifier; this whole section falls apart if that assumption is wrong!) is challenged with another problem to be solved: How he would go about determining which Type a prospective job candidate was, using only 5 interview questions. According to my exposition here, his response to that problem is a text-book example of a Simplifier’s solution – it is one that showcases PRECISELY the strengths and the pitfalls of that strategy that I’ve hitherto outlined. For one thing, as I’d expect from a Simplifier, he was given the option of using five questions, but pared his solution down to using only two. He WAS able to arrive at a fairly decent solution with his two questions; together, they would indeed result in a satisfactory completion of the challenge: they would weed out a Simplifier from a Complexifer. However, his solution was “Good/Decent” where it could have been more accurate (or, “excellent”). For example, if you look again at the interview questions he came up with, Question Two will weed out the ego/insecurity-driven Complexifiers, but ALSO the kind of Complexifiers motivated by accuracy /finding the most-excellent-solution! Missing the value of that candidate would be quite a shame, but question two wipes them both out by not differentiating between important subtleties. This kind of result is, as I’ve argued, a quintessential pitfall of a Simplifier’s solution. Again, it’s a Good/Decent solution, but not an Excellent one.

    Now, granted, the author did disclaim that he would need some time to think about it, but that’s the working of a Simplifier – come up with quick, simple, decent solution NOW, then do it again to revise later.

    *By the way, no personal attacks are actually intended for the author. I’m just defending my position as the Complixifier and playing around a little. Honestly, no disrespect is intended. I admire the fact that this kind of thing is something he’d even spend time considering, let alone blogging about!

  27. Scott (admin)

    I feel like I just read the Cliff notes to Adriannes master’s thesis on the general classification and psychology of problem solvers – Bravo! That was cool. Thanks for posting that here. Need to read it again and think it over before I comment on it.

  28. JSorensen

    Simplifiers thrive on concision, at the expense of accuracy. They look for the 6x=6y in the world, and happily turn it into x=y even though they were too busy paying attention to the “big picture” to see that the original equation wasn’t 6x=6y, but 5.7x=6y.

    They never let their ego get in the way of the short path, however, frequently it gets in the way of the long one, and also, frequently, it doesn’t lead to the intended destination.

    When you give them seemingly complicated tasks, or more realistically–tasks that *are* in fact complicated–they simplify, consolidate, and re-interpret on instinct, rather than searching for a complete understanding of the nature of the problem at hand. They find ways to communicate complex ideas in simple terms without losing the idea’s essence or power; unfortunately, they fail. Such people are unable to even understand an idea’s essence in the first place.

    Simplifiers turn computer chips into calculators, books into cliff-notes, and people into categories.

  29. stacysaw

    Another real-world appearance of this discussion!

    From today’s online New York Times:

    The Immutable President
    The more things get complicated, the more President Bush feels vindicated in his own simplified vision.

  30. 10001110101

    Holy Crap,
    My guess is that Adrianne is a Complexifier…

  31. eric

    I don’t come across too many people who make simple things more complex than necessary. I mean, sure there are pedants, and that pedantry may manifest in talking and writing as unecessarily complex explanations, but I’m not sure that means that they do task in more complicated ways than is necessary.

    On the other hand, I come across people all the time who reduce nuanced or ambiguous realities into black and white issues. Take George Bush for example….

  32. Murali

    Having more details should not be considered as complex. On a similar note, lack of details does not make it simple.

    Whatever we do not understand with clarity, we often consider it as complex. Whatever we can easily undersand, we consider it as simple. So then (to a greater extent), complexity or simplicity is a subjective assertion, based on one’s understanding.

    For a given problem, if somebody give a new solution that no body is aware of, people often tend to think the solution as complex, purely because they could not comprehend the solution and consequences. But if we give a solution that is understood well by others, they consider it as simple.

    In my experience though, good problem solvers explain a solution with an analogy from a well known solution for understanding, and then delve into details that are quite new in the solution. End of the day, everybody understands the solution, so do not see any complexity.

    Some people, who mostly out of lack of confidence, and insecurity do not want to have their solution understood by others. So they add too many irrelevant details to their solution and tend to explain the solution in a foreign way, with full of jargon and (commonly)unknown terms. The solution may be quite simple, now look unnecessarily complex.

  33. DC Smith

    Who would you rather hire to plumb your new house? A simplifier who only cares that “hot’s on the left, cold’s on the right, & crap flows downhill” or someone who understands the need to balance pressure & flow so you aren’t scalded in the shower when some flushes a toilet?

    Sometimes it’s necessary to look at tasks in a more complex manner.

  34. thomas s

    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.

    For an example, I am completely lost when looking at the mathematics involved in the quantum theory of physics however I can pick up Scientific American and *often* understand the underlying principles proposed by the author. When I can understand them – I have found a simplifier. I understand that there is an underlying complexity that I cannot understand, I know that the author can understand the complexity but I can see the author reducing this complexity to the underlying principles and I can follow them on the journey.

    The same goes with project management, software design etc. A good project manager is one who understands the complexity of the project but can reduce that into something that a particular audience can relate to.

    Of course the tendency is then for some audiences to take this simplification to the extreme and then suggest a cut in budget or resources for the project but at that stage the offer would be made to explain why this is not possible due to the technical complexity and an offer made to them to explain the complexity. I’ve found that in the majority of cases the offer will not be taken up.

    Lastly, as someone who is *NOT* a good simplifier but strives to be I’ve found one helpful way to simplify is to “chunk” a project for an audience. A large complex project is daunting to most audiences that do not have the technical training and they tend to be offside from the beginning. But by breaking the project down into chunks they will then find some areas that they can relate to in detail and some that they are happy to gloss over. As mentioned before this allows them to follow the journey without necessarily having to understand all the complexity.

  35. Cass

    How about “elegantifiers” — people who make the complex as elegantly simple as it can possibly be (given what is currently known), without delusionally making it one bit simpler.

    Think E = MC^2; I imagine it took quite a bit of exploding and exploring tremendous and true complexity, to get to that one without just superficially “simplifying the problem.”

  36. 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.

  37. 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.”

  38. 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.

  39. Muck cel mic

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

  40. Muck cel mic

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

  41. 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!

  42. Eric

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

  43. 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!

  44. 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?

  45. 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?

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.”

  49. 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.

  50. 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?

    1. Bob

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

  51. 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.



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