Monday, November 16, 2009

Imaginations Run Wild

One day, several years ago, I was eating dinner with some Chinese new friends in a small, Chinese restaurant in Flushing, NY. After the food was gone, I turned to Jeff who was sitting next to me and watched him eat the rest of his bowl of rice by itself.

The young, philosophical me had a picture in my head. I could see the women in their bamboo hats, ankle deep in the mud of the rice fields. So I asked him at that point, "are you eating the rice because it symbolizes the hard work of the laborers in the fields and you don't want to waste it?"

Jeff assessed my mental state for a few moments, then resumed eating his rice. It turns out he was just hungry, and plain rice was better than no rice.

Elegance is...well...elegant. It's nice to devise a solution to a problem that you feel would qualify for a place in the Museum of Modern Art, but sometimes the best solution is the easiest. We know this as the Keep It Simple, Stupid or KISS principle.

(For the astute reader, this posting is different than another one that I wrote using KISS as the premise for the discussion.)

So why am I writing about a topic with which we are all familiar? (I wonder what the rice workers would give as an answer.) I'm sure we've seen situations where such emphasis is placed on developing an elaborate solution that it paralyzes the team. The final solution isn't started, much less finished, until well after something simpler could have been implemented and the rewards realized. Therefore, it's worth reminding ourselves that frequently simplicity is best even if it means that it may only address 95% of the requirements for a solution.

For example, my family and I are currently preparing for a move from Long Island, New York to New Jersey. We have a small apartment now, but it still needs to be packed. During the time that we've lived here, we've managed to accumulate a fair amount of small "stuff" (with a nod to George Carlin). Given that moving companies have a reputation (unfairly attributed, I'm sure) to manhandling one's possessions, we could organize everything in the boxes neatly and wrap everything up in bubble wrap to ensure its safety.

What would that accomplish? Honestly, it would do nothing but waste a substantial amount of our time. Instead, we have recognized that a lot of our smaller possessions would not be missed (much) even if they were pulverized. Therefore, we are simply putting things in boxes without much regard to organization with the recognition that the odds are greatly in our favor that nothing will get damaged.

Does the story of the tortoise and hare ring a bell? In this instance, however, the hare wins. Steady persistence (the tortoise) in one's efforts to find the best solution have more potential in terms of benefits provided, but (to paraphrase a basketball coach whose name escapes me) "potential means you ain't done shit for me lately."

On an unrelated note, I get asked somewhat regularly where I get my graphics from for the blog. I use an amazing site, full of free and royalty photographs: stock.xchng. Unfortunately, they are having stability issues at the time of this writing for the first time since I started using them, which is why there is no spiffy graphic in this installment.

See you next week.

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