I’m really good at it. It seems like it happens over and over again. It often comes in the form of an Excel sheet.
I can make anything 10x more complex than you need it to be.
I will frequently deviate from the plan by adding in so many bells and whistles you’d think I were talking about a Mercedes-Benz. If you tried to review it, you’d likely want to scrap it and start over because, even after trying to understand, it’s might just be nonsensical.
Why do we do this?
First and foremost, I don’t think it’s that we lack the tools to quench the desire to overarchitect. I believe it’s just that—we want to prove our abilities to do so much. Simply put, pride. Or, as William of Ockham’s solution:
“among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” — William of Ockham, 14th century English friar
Earlier this year I spent a weekend at a monastery several hours away. I desired the time for meditation, reflection, reading, and just slowing down. One thing that stood out to me is as complex of a web that I tried to weave, the few conversations I had with monks (they were busy with their orchards and vineyards), I was struck and caught off balance by their simplicity. They did not need to invent convoluted methods to understand or interpret the world. Or, as another translated quote from William of Ockham says, “It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.”
Back to Excel. Looking back, I don’t believe I lacked methodology, structure, or ability to construct a clean, easy-to-understand spreadsheet. Instead, I believe I knew too much. As nerdy as it sounds (read: is), it’s that I wanted to throw in all my skills into each spreadsheet. It’s akin to making dinner: if you follow the recipe, it’ll likely turn out well. Once you decide to include all ingredients that are in your kitchen for that meal, bad things will come.
You see, it’s not about Excel; it’s about communication. A spreadsheet is merely the medium we use. We will do the same thing when explaining processes, building a tower of Legos, or structuring next year’s strategic plan. We all want to display how smart, how brilliant we really are. I need to know you know the reaches of my intellect.
This is true for all of us.
It’s through humility we can understand when to hold back and only use the required ingredients. The funny thing is, that’s when we achieve the results we want. Simplicity grants a broader audience the ability to understand the mission, the objectives, and the current status of any project or company. But, it means we swallow our pride.
So that’s why I use Occam’s razor as a reminder. It’s not about people thinking I’m smart or capable, but our growth and outcomes. Or, for a business, the results achieved—sometimes from that silly Excel spreadsheet.