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Articles: Keeping Things Simple... It's Harder Than It Looks

On July 8th, 2015, United Airlines suspended all of its flights for almost two hours, the stock exchange was forced into a temporary shut down, and the Wall Street Journal's website had to re-route readers to a back-up site for a time. The FBI is fairly certain that it wasn’t the result of any cyber attacks; just a bad coincidental day for technology.

Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner, said, "The problem is humans can't keep up with all the technology they have created. It's becoming unmanageable by the human brain.”

That statement alone scares me. For many years, I’ve observed a steady march toward complication in technology, even on our personal computers. On one hand, it benefits our company because as long as the things we sell are complicated, people will need help with them. And that means opportunity.

But on the other hand, I have to lament the lost promise the original Macintosh gave “the rest of us.” It was simple. Easy to use and understand. You didn’t have to memorize DOS commands or wonder what the F keys were for. To use a printer, you just plugged it in and the computer pretty much knew it could print to it.

A few months ago, my elderly father bought a printer from a large retailer for his Mac. He couldn’t get it to work. Took it back. Got another one. And then yet another. Three models by three different manufacturers, none of them worked out of the box for him. Finally someone came out to help him, and it wasn’t just a “you forgot to plug it in” fix. Sure, he’s 86 and is somewhat hapless around technology. But he knows how to plug things in and type and access the internet, and he’s no dummy. He should’ve just been able to plug & play. The promise the early Mac offered is no longer there for him, and countless others as well. If you have to be an IT professional to get a personal printer to work, something’s wrong.

The art of genius is taking something complex and making it simple to understand and operate. The art of pretending you are a genius is to make something too complicated for anyone else to understand. More and more infrastructure and software seems to be designed and implemented by pretend geniuses. And it’s driving the rest of us a little nuts.

I’ve seen countless IT people guard their secrets –even from the owners or management!– like a hen protecting its newborn chicks. It’s a rare thing to have anyone IT sit down and patiently explain the entire process to a non-techie, or even create readable instructional documents a non-techie can understand.

Simplifying actually takes more work and smarts than making things complicated. Since technology has exploded, it naturally has attracted a broad swath of people to work within it. But the thing is, when you have a broad swath of people doing anything, the average is going to be, well, average. And the average IT worker or programmer just doesn’t seem to have enough smarts to keep things both simple and working at the same time.

I’ve seen complication rear its ugly head with countless software programs. Often they’re simply updated with features to justify a reason for another purchase, not because they’re addressing a real need. Microsoft Word is now so bloated I’m surprised it runs at all (and it often doesn’t). But here it is, our standard word processing software. Ugh.

If you want to see the simplicity of genius, buy one of the Lego City sets, and follow the directions. Anyone from 3 to 103 can happily assemble an entire city with those instructions. We need more Lego-esque instructions in technology.

Simplify. It’s what genius eats for dinner.



Kevin Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of PowerMax, and is one to never be shy with his opinions. He loves pina coladas and moonlight walks on the beach -oh wait- we got that from an old post on eHarmony. He's all happily married now, something we was able to be after successfully using many of his philosophies to recover from the heart-breaking and tragic death of his wife. He does enjoy and appreciate humor and thinks the world can never have enough of it. He loves the book "The Four Agreements." He's also a believer in the self-taught philosophy of "CHI." Which, in addition to being a cool-sounding Chinese word, also stands for "Confidence, Humility and Ignorance." He believes we should all have equal measures of each, with the latter being an acceptance that all of us really don't know nearly as much as we think we do, so we're better off having an open mind instead of planting a mental flag and not noticing that we just planted it in a mud bog. He will also answer virtually any email sent to him by a customer, which you can do by sending to any email address on our site or through anyone you've ever worked with at PowerMax.

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