simplicity vs complexity

We live in interesting times.

Complex is simple, and simple is dauntingly complex. We applaud intricacy, and scoff at simplicity. The latter has no place in this modern, technological sound world.

Yet, achievers – the giants among men – worship simplicity with undying fanaticism. Dive deeper into the lives of maestros, and you’ll find they produce work at astonishing levels by following simple techniques.

Any surprise that we’re left scratching our heads?

Why? Why, despite being more complex, is it difficult – nay, impossible – for us to challenge their simplicity?

The answer (rather a large part of it) lies in a mental model called the availability heuristic. Safal Niveshak founder Vishal Khandelwal explained it during a seminar at 91 Springboard. Here is how it goes:

People recall latest facts and examine them in isolation. They fall in love with their own thinking, and focus only on information which aligns with it.

The result? Biases. Rather than understanding how things function, they contort and rearrange facts in their minds to fit their biases. And when outcomes are the exact opposite of expectations, uncertainty prevails. This uncertainty is the root cause of complexity.

how to look at things from a different persepctive

No thanks to the internet, we consume too much information, provided it’s of the same kind. The majority choose to ignore different perspectives. The result is a limited set of tools, as useful to the mind as a single squat to a beach body. This increases misjudgment and handicaps your ability to solve problems.

“Men see a little, presume a good deal, and so jump to the conclusion.” – Thomas McRae

Can you address this challenge? Can you put complexity on a train to nowhere?


Guess what! Every person you admire, who embraced simplicity like a long-lost friend, started off as a blank slate. Sherlock Holmes said:

A man’s brain is originally like an empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose….. the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain attic.

…. a man should keep his little brain-attic with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it when he wants it.

The wider assortment of tools Holmes referred to, are known as mental models. Mental models provide unique insights into how the world functions at a primal level and improve your ability to make better decisions.

The sharpest minds are (and were) astute students of mental models.

To know more about mental models, these blogs are excellent resources:

  1. Safal Niveshak (meaning “successful investor”)
  2. Farnam Street

How You Can Build Mental Models

Now, don’t get fooled. You cannot rote-learn mental models and expect to get positive results, like in school. The only technique to use mental models effectively, and get comfortable with simplicity, is experience: the most effective form of lifelong learning.

Experience comes from experiments, from keeping an open mind, and exposing yourself to more situations. It comes from approaching circumstances with a blank mindset instead of preconceived notions. Instead of giving into biases, learn from outcomes and develop new tools for yourself.

Don’t just see. Observe. Ask yourself ‘why’? Why did it happen? You’ll start identifying patterns you couldn’t see before.

Enter Sherlock Holmes again:

… let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems. Let him meet a fellow mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation and teaches one where to look and what to look for.

Thomas McRae chimed in:

Observation is a matter of patience, training and thoroughness…… to observe correctly and decide wrongly is sure to happen to the best of us, but to observe carelessly only happens when we permit it.

Experience and patience provide the necessary training for observation. You will make mistakes. Everyone, including the sharpest minds, does. How you respond to mistakes dictates how quickly you adopt a simplistic mindset. Effective mental models get formed when you learn from mistakes.

But Do You Learn From Mistakes?

Most people, however, flee after making a mistake. They don’t just refuse to learn, they refuse try again. Or, they repeat the same mistakes despite being in the same situation over and over again.

Ever heard someone say:

“Why does this always happen to me?”

“Why can’t I ever do things right?”

“Why don’t I get ever get what I want?”

“Why do I always fall for the wrong person?”

Human beings have blind spots, or ‘shadows’, according to influential psychoanalyst Carl Jung. A ‘shadow’ is a repressed side of a human being’s personality; one that is often negative and you don’t want to acknowledge.

quotes on positive thinking

Getting angry at people often is a common example of a shadow. So is taking decisions which yield negative results repeatedly. Or on-going health ailments. The ‘shadow’ is your unconscious behavior evident to others. It makes them go, “here he goes again.”

Shadows limit you from learning from mistakes.

What It Takes to Overcome Shadows

Being objective about yourself is difficult and painful. It’s easier to wrestle a tiger than a mea culpa.

Hence, self-awareness and feedback from others are important. If you don’t turn to books or advice from others, you stay restricted to knowledge within you and fail to grow.

“To choose a road, to stop habitually and ask whether you have not gone astray, that is the true method.” – Louis Pasteur

But you can’t go around seeking feedback from everyone. Most people, despite meaning well, will try dissuading you from something new. It’s not because of you, but them. It reflects their fear of failure, which they might transfer to you like a contagious flu.

Your ability to survive, to be calm, to even be happy, to possibly be successful, stems entirely from the quality of the people you surround yourself with, muses James Altucher.

Connect with people who offer constructive feedback. Search for people who encourage you, who promote your work and who, through their questions, help you discover your own answers.

Build Your Scene

It’s proven that people you don’t know well prove more useful than close family and friends. Creative people and entrepreneurs know this for a fact. Hence, they never work alone. There’s always a context. There’s always others from around the world that you can trade ideas with and build ideas on each other. James Altucher calls this a ‘scene’.

how to use weak ties to build a network

Build a network. Here’s how he suggests you build a Scene:

  • Find people whose work inspires you. Businesses, writings, art, whatever.
  • Come up with ideas for them. How can you help them?
  • Start doing your own work. Share your work with people you like. Interact with people who interact with you sincerely.
  • Try to meet the people who inspire you. Some of them are busy. Some would like to meet.
  • Go to conferences and meet the people who inspire you.
  • Every day work (sic). Every day create. Every day share. The people you share with slowly solidify into your Scene.
  • And then repeat… never stop helping.

I’m working on this. Networking is tough for me. But since I’ve joined 91 Springboard, I’ve connected with some amazing minds. I’ve also resolved to attend more conferences and meet new people. Wish me luck.

Today, complexity is welcomed, while simplicity is looked at like an uninvited guest who stays beyond his time. But the greats are great because of their intelligence to understand how things really function, to simplify.

You can build the same for yourself. Just free your mind. Develop mental models through experience, learn from your mistakes and build your scene.

Start quickly, because thousands of people out there really need what you can offer.

[Note: The quotes mentioned in the article are from Peter Bevelin’s book A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes.]


Vishal Kataria

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