What price simplicity?

William of Ockham, from stained glass window a...

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It is fair to say that the (adapted) words of “Occam’s razor” are as valid in 21st Century as they were in the 14th!

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate

For those of us whose knowledge of Latin didn’t extend beyond ‘O’ Level, this is roughly translated as: Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.

However a more familiar quote, oft attributed to Einstein, that expresses what William of Ockham was telling us, is: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

In modernity we have, unwittingly, come to rely upon levels of complexity in communications, products and services that were the stuff of science fiction in our own life-times…that does pre-suppose that your are old enough to remember Colour television as the preserve of an affluent minority!

But, if we should be striving for simplicity, THE question is: how can we reduce complexity without losing functionality?

Ontonix quantify current complexity and, more importantly, the point of “critical complexity” beyond which loss of function, failure or collapse are assured. We contest that, without a means to, objectively, quantify system complexity the ability to simplify – without loss of function – is impossible as there is no means to “track” causality!

I have read some experts (and consultants) talking about adding “good complexity” and removing “bad complexity”. Great! That makes sense, but if defining complexity has been the source of much Academic “mental masturbation” for over 30 years – without unilateral agreement – I would suggest that this amounts to little more than a sales pitch for consultancy services!

If anyone offers such a service to you I would suggest that you pose some pretty basic questions:

  • what is your definition of “complexity”?
  • what data is required to initiate the process?
  • how do you identify which is “good” or “bad”?
  • how can you quantify amounts of complexity current and future impact?
  • will outcomes be quantitative?
  • can you guarantee objectivity?

Of course there are myriad other questions that could be asked but these should be sufficient to assess the integrity of any process.

One thing for sure is that managing complexity is good for, both, manageability and  profitability. This document is particularly useful.

Alternatively, you could approach The Simplicity Partnership. Their report, Global Simplicity Index™sounds particularly interesting…and, if you succeed with a request for a copy, I would be particularly interested to learn more about their approach.

However, unsurprisingly, I am firmly of the opinion that the best option (by far) is to “dip your toe” into complexity for FREE! Ontonix are so confident of our unique approach that you can download, complete and submit a template (with your own financial information) for an initial assessment.

We are happy to help with any needs or more detailed analysis as a result of the insight you gain

2 Responses to What price simplicity?

  1. Kaythi says:

    I think complexity is also a way to simplify. Complexity can explain what simplicity cannot explain.
    In this article, I don’t understand the literary meaning of “…if defining complexity has been the source of much Academic “mental masturbation” for over thirty years….” Could you simplify this expression?

    • The point I was making is that, rather than settle upon a ‘universal definition’, too many so-called experts prefer to discount or dismiss the work of others whose definition differs from that which they have come to accept (by whatever route). So, instead of working collaboratively toward a greater understanding and the benefits that such understanding could bring, they prefer to compete! This is perhaps understandable in commerce but somewhat surprising that it is still the case in Academia where a more multi-disciplinary approach seems to be gaining traction.

      However, at Ontonix we have our own definition. One that is measurable, consistent and successfully applied across a wide range of Complex Systems. Our understanding and that of our customers’ is enhanced by measuring complexity…striving for the simplicity on the other side of complexity (per Einstein). The alternative, to which I was referring, becomes more of an exercise to add to complexity for the sake of the type of job security that accompanies, sponsored research, published papers, the odd book or some highly lucrative consultancy. The latter involving the application of linear-thinking to non-linear systems.

      We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
      Albert Einstein

      Or, to put another way, we are dealing with business or financial systems, applying conventional ‘wisdom’ (typically classical economic theory – which we know to be based upon flawed assumptions: equilibrium, rational, infinite growth, etc. When, IN THE REAL WORLD we already know that effective management of complex systems requires counter intuitive decision-making. Without measurement of the past, current state, minimum or maximum sustainable levels of complexity/resilience within a system how can we know if our actions are detrimental to the health of the system? Unless we rely upon the outcomes we observe…by which time we may have, unknowingly, damaged the health of the system through our own misguided attempts to manage: reliant upon luck (randomness) rather than judgement which makes a mockery of the illusion of the ability of financial institutions to manage…for as long as we fail to measure complexity it remains in the domain of epistemic uncertainty whilst WE create risk (and therefore misleading probabilities) which, unmanaged, increases uncertainty in inter-connected systems and increases volatility. Both of which are amplified as they ‘loop’ across these systems [think contagion] fuelling exposure to systemic risk.

      I hope that duly answers your question and provides some further food for though on, what is, a fundamental issue.


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