What We Can Learn About Technology Complexity From A Cartoon Caption Contest!
The cartoon caption contest I launched last week has been very popular! — many, many thanks to all of you who participated so far, and please note there are still a couple of days left to vote for your favorites… [UPDATE: click here to see the winners!]
In the meantime, I thought it was fascinating to see that almost all of the highest-rated entries so far seem to be the ones that echo the real life experiences of SCN community members deploying and using complex technology.
Here’s my summary of some of the key themes that have come out of the contest so far, with links to the leading entries — click on your favorites to go to the main blog post to vote! [and please DON’T ADD YOUR CAPTIONS TO THIS POST]
Simplification is hard. As Leonardo da Vinci said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and Steve Jobs noted that “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” It’s much easier to talk about simplicity than it is to actually do it, as noted by Tammy Powlas‘ entry: “Simplification ain’t so simple”
There’s a lot of technology out there. It’s not just that technology is changing fast, it’s that it seems like so many different technologies are all coming together at the same time, making integrating them seem harder than ever. Hence Gretchen Lindquist‘s entry “This new release is fully integrated with mobile technologies and big data analytics, solar powered, and, as you can see, much simpler.”
We ask for complexity. If we determine what we should build by asking everybody want they want, we often end up with something much more complex than we needed — and which ends up missing the original goals. This was noted by both Caroleigh Deneen‘s entry: “You told me I should just follow the requirements doc.” and Christopher Solomon‘s “I know this is what we asked for, but it’s not what we want.”
Technology complexity is different from complex ease of use. Just because something is very technically complex it doesn’t mean it’s difficult to use — as pointed out by Eric Vallo: “But, it runs simple.” and Troy Thurston: “It actually runs simple. Finding the ‘ON’ switch is hard.”
Complexity comes from existing systems. Today’s technology complexity is often the result of all the layers of existing systems, that are hard to integrate, as pointed out by Mark Richardson “…as requested, the new Platform is integrated with all of your Legacy systems…” and this is especially true of security, as pointed out by Jamie Oswald: “… and tada, Single Sign-On.”
Why complexity? Because: reality! Sometimes, the complexity of today’s systems is at least partly a reflection of reality, as pointed out by Tim England: “Like you asked we stripped it down to the bare minimum.”
Change isn’t the same as simplification! We sometimes mistake changing technology with simpler systems, notes Enzo Silva: “We have simplified the process. From 15,942 knobs to a mere 15,937 buttons.”
Don’t touch what’s working! When it comes to trying to fix complexity, there’s always the big problem that nobody wants to break what’s working, notes Stefan Rau: “Nobody knows what it is, but it runs for years without any problem.”
An opportunity to fix complexity? Several entries pointed out that one way to at least hide the complexity is to move it to the cloud (and make it somebody else’s job?): Christopher Solomon: “Now, if you only agree to move to the Cloud, I can make this all go away.”
Simple humor? Finally, a few of the higher-rated entries aren’t linked to complexity: