28 June 2012

Boiling Down

I was sitting in a meeting where we were discussing some of the finer points of a concept. Toward the end of the discussion, I raised my hand and noted that while we had discussed the benefits of the process, namely that it enables us to do "things" (the aggressive and ambiguous usage of the term "things" is an issue for another time) we had missed discussing how to do the actual process. While I had some vague idea on how to use the concepts discussed, I thought I, as well as the group in general, would benefit from a discussion of the mechanics of the process.

It was interesting to me that the following comments started with words like "basically," "in essence," "mostly" and "it just happens." (I may have been a bit rude in my retort, "so I do these things and it just magically happens," to which I was met with blank stares and a humbled, shy 'yes.') I quickly realized that while each of the commenters seemed to understand the importance of the concepts discussed, they had little idea on how to achieve them. Perhaps more interesting was that they preferred to perform poor reductions rather than to actually understanding how to implement the concepts.

We love to boil things down. We love to simplify and reduce. The problem is that when we artificially reduce things we lose a great deal of their power and effectiveness. In this artificial process, we remove pertinent content that would otherwise be valuable when in reality, we should focus on working through the problem until the simple and beautiful solution presents itself. This process should be a natural out cropping or development of the exploratory process, not a distinct or purposeful initiative to reduce the content. In other words, simplification should be a result of thoroughly understanding a topic. Instead of pursuing simplification, simplification should be more of a function of discovery or realization. Simplification that is discovered retains most, if not all, of the important information. They also contain the logic needed to address the broader application of the concept. In this way, we can more easily communicate the idea in its simplest, most beautiful form.

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