Simple, Complex, Simple

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Supreme Court Justice, 1902 – 1932

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” -Albert Einstein

Oliver Wendell Holmes’s quote brings to mind a curve on a graph in the shape of a single hump, commonly referred to as the normal distribution.  To the left of the hump is the simplicity he wouldn’t trade for a fig.  The hump is complexity.  To the right of the hump is the simplicity he values.

Getting to the right side of the hump is a fine art few recognize, let alone achieve.  Holmes, Ben Franklin and Einstein were masters. Warren Buffett and Jack Welch are modern day masters.

Getting to the right side requires thorough understanding of a subject and deep reflection.  Like sculpting a human form out of a lump of rock, it takes practice, determination, refined technique, mastered use of the right tools, a feel for the material and a keen eye for achieving the desired shape.

The complexity curve explains why NFL management talent is not deep.  Over 95% of the managers operate to the left or inside the complexity hump.  Less than five percent are to the right.

The effectiveness of leadership and management strategies from the 95% of managers is random.   Some work, some don’t.  Successes aren’t consistently repeatable by this crowd.  They’re often like the one-hit wonders of the music world.

The success rate from the 5% is not perfect, but it is high and more consistent.  They’re much more like the bands that endure.

The five percenters started off as 95 percenters and moved to the right with experience and reflection.

A few things set these people apart.  They’re open to feedback.  They don’t let their egos get in the way of learning.  They distinguish root causes from symptoms.  They have a healthy skepticism of conventional wisdom.  They have a good handle on their biases.  They can see things from other points-of-view.

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