Making Processes Simple Is Tough Work: Just Add Features and Move On

May 3, 2021

I read “Science Shows Why Simplifying Is Hard and Complicating Is Easy.” I am generally suspicious of “science says” arguments. The reproducibility of the experiments, the statistical methods used to analyze data, and the integrity of those involved. (Remember MIT and the Jeffrey Epstein dalliance?) With these caveats in mind, let’s consider the information in the Japan Times’s article. (Note: You may have to pay to view the original article.)

The core of the write up is that making a procedure or explanation simple is not what humans do. The reasons are set forth in  a paper published in Nature by scientists from the University of Virginia. Yep, the honor system outfit. The write up states:

In eight observational studies and experiments, they found that people systematically overlook opportunities to improve things by subtracting
and default instead to adding.

One of the reported findings I noted was:

The more intriguing insight was that people became less likely to consider subtraction the more they felt “cognitive load.”

When I commuted on Highway 101 in the San Francisco area, I recall seeing wizards fiddling with computing devices whilst driving. Not a good idea, science says. Common sense? Not part of the science, gentle reader.

I noted this passage too: Then dare to dream what thoughtful subtraction could do for the real mother lodes of self-propagating complexity — the U.S. tax code springs to mind, or the European Union’s fiscal rules. We can simplify our lives, but we have to put in the work. That’s what the
philosopher Blaise Pascal captured when he apologized, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

I would have sworn that that snappy comment was the work of Mark Twain or a British Fancy Dan who allegedly said Common sense is the best sense.

Let’s add footnotes, a glossary, and marginalia. Keep stuff simple like the automatic record-the-meeting feature added to Microsoft Teams. I think this is called featuritis or what could go wrong?

Stephen E Arnold, May 3, 2021

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