Make it simple, expert

Mike Wagner of White Rabbit Group has an excellent post titled Don’t “keep it simple, Stupid”! which talks about how nothing in business starts out simple, so the old adage should be “Make it simple, expert” rather than the old adage “keep it simple, stupid.” The key quote is this:

The real expertise businesses and organizations need comes from those professionals who know how to “make simple” what is already way too complicated. Reward that! Insist on that!

Computers are all about taking complexity and making it simple. Rooms of humans computing the books of a company (the origin of the term “computer”) are now replaced with a single application running along with several other, equally complex applications. Rows and rows of secretaries have been eliminated. Human productivity is up because each user can do more in an hour than our ancestors could do in a week.

Making tasks simpler

Mac OS X allows us to make simple tasks out of long repetitive ones through the use of Automator, Applescript, and UNIX shell scripts. My favorite recent example is a process I came up with when I was updating all of the avatar pictures of myself on the web. I had just taken part in a photo shoot, and had a DVD full of beautiful, giant TIFF files.

Files that websites like, Facebook, and Twitter reject because they want 300k JPEG files.

The process was about eight or nine steps to do manually, which also required me to think about the best way to deal with the files each time. I didn’t really need all of the photos shrunken, so I was doing them in batches of one and two on an as-need basis. I then realized that I was performing the same actions over and over again.

I then opened Automator, and a few workflow commands later I had a service that automatically converted any photo that I select into a 300k JPEG. The beauty of doing this in Snow Leopard is that I can now right-click on a file and convert it.

Getting back to Mike’s point, I took a complex (in numbers of steps and time, not in the difficulty of each step) task and made it simple. There is a staggering amount of complexity sitting in the background, but the end user doesn’t see it.

They just right click and have a file they need.

Des Moines’ Entrepreneur Climate

Mike Colwell of BIZ (Business Innovation Zone) has an excellent article talking about how detrimental it is for serial entrepreneurs in Des Moines to “Fail Fast.” One of the things he hits upon is something that I tend to tell people at least once a week:

Des Moines is a small town with a long memory.

While I knew this to be true, Mike Sansone was the person that gave me a plausible explanation. He explained that Des Moines’ culture is of risk aversion. Our largest industry, insurance, is dedicated to mitigating risk. The agricultural part of the state also has a culture of mitigating risk in the corn field, be it from deer, water, hail, etc.

Our culture dictates a certain level of hostility to something new. Startups are more difficult here because of our culture. However, the consensus is that the entrepreneur climate has improved greatly over the course of the last decade, particularly in the last five years.

How do we ensure that this trend continues for the next decade?

For myself, this means:

  • A commitment to honesty.
  • A conscious effort to learn from failures.
  • An openness to new ideas.
  • A pledge to reinvest in Des Moines’ entrepreneur community.
  • The ability to forgive past mistakes, given true contrition.

– Jon

Photo courtesy of Carl Wykoff