Reess Kennedy

Ideas, sharings, projections

Category: Simplification

The Over-Engineering of Bagels and Life

Recently I decided to do something really crazy: Order a plain bagel with plain cream cheese. The result: one of the great bagel experiences of my life and a major EUREKA moment.

Why was this so crazy for me? For many years I’d ordered everything bagels. Occasionally I’d experiment with flavored cream cheeses too.

After biting this plain-on-plain after so long out at sea with different add-ons I thought, “Why have I been straying form the basic thing for so long?” It’s hard to beat just a perfectly fresh bagel with the right amount of plain cream cheese on it.

I think there’s a lesson of general value in life form this. Humans have a propensity to want to add more to everything. We’re tinkerers and experimenters and, in many ways, this curiosity has resulted in the incredible innovations that continue to improve our world.

It also, however, can lead us down dead end roads, always seeking more when what we had in the beginning didn’t need anything more. What we had in the beginning worked great!

I think this applies to food, relationships and business.

How do we find that really simple, basic thing that just works great? How do we find that perfect plain bagel with plain cream cheese that everyone lines up for in our business? And then how do we prevent ourselves from feeling the need to monkey with it too much once it works!

Software engineers talk about “the plague of over-engineering” sometimes.

When you’re dealing with bits and bites that can be moved around in an infinite combination, dissatisfaction and a desire to add on more can become an even bigger valueless time drain.

I saw this quote about it recently I liked:

This guys basically communicates what I’m trying to say in this article in 140 characters. Maybe this whole post is over-engineered.

The paradox of technology time-saving devices

Technological tools are often marketed to be time-saving but we seem to all be time-starved.

I think we’re in a weird adjustment phase, still, nine years post-iPhone launch where we’re still figuring out how to make our “smart” devices actually work for us and towards giving us more time to focus on the meaningful and less on the meaningless.

The challenge is this: With all this great and rapid innovation we are, indeed, creating efficiencies but we’re also creating new options. Options end up giving us new ways to spend our time and seem to drain it and not always in a way that actually contributes to growth in personal physical, mental or spiritual health and happiness.

Software engineers or anyone involved in building technology products or providing tech services knows this. The late, great Alex King wrote a great post about how “We’ve Made Web Development Complicated.” And this is true.

Increasingly complexity is inherently bad. Complex problems sometimes require complex solutions. We aim for simple and elegant but won’t always achieve it. Not every solution is a single-button iPhone. So we have all these options and now technology builders have all these choices to make. Often people waste a lot of time making these decisions and planning for problems they don’t have yet, and may never have, and this does the opposite of what the new tech solutions promises: It stifles innovation, creative productivity and generally allows our sometimes unfocused human minds to wander, feeling less confident in the decisions we’re making and spending our time less effectively.

It reminds me of the issues around getting a massive diner menu: you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you’re in the mood for and then feel less content with your choices after making them. Studies show people generally feel more satisfied with their selections when they’re choosing from fewer options.

So we need to constrain ourselves. We need to understand that across the board, there is power in constraint.

We need to understand that the reason tweets abound on twitter is because of the tight, 140 character limit placed on creative outbursts.

 

Quick thoughts on less stuff: a reversion to hunter-gatherer freedom

I’ve been reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Arayi and it’s incredible and I recommend everyone read it too.

One quick thing that struck me is the author’s reminder of how the agricultural revolution tied us to a specific location and then the industrial revolution shackled us even more when we started producing more “stuff” and collecting this stuff in our homes, feeling less able to just relocate because of the weight of our earthly possessions. Hunter-gatherers didn’t have much stuff. They needed to be mobile so they just had the essentials. They were the first minimalists!

Arayi doesn’t get into this but I’ve been thinking about how now we have technology allowing us to reclaim some of the freedoms we lost as hunter gatherers.

Think about it: My parents had to collect books and VHS tapes and then CDs and DVDs just to have access to the stuff their neighbors would be consuming and talking about. They needed physical stuff to keep up with culture. This stuff took up a huge amount of space in the home. Now, we don’t need any of this to remain
in the loop.”

I have my kindle and my Netflix and my Spotify. I just trades a few hundred bucks a year for access to everything my neighbors also have access to and a life free from the weight that culture used to impose!

We’re now able to comfortably have much less stuff without sacrificing quality of life or access to culture or information. And this has happened in just one generation!

The previous generation also used to buy into time shares to go to one vacation spot every summer, now we have Airbnb and we no longer need to limit ourselves to one vacation spot when so many options are affordable and available with ease.

The cloud has helped us reclaim more of the freedoms enjoyed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors from 19,000 years ago!

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