/ Scott Adams / 4 pm Mon, Dec 2 2013
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  • Simplifiers and Optimizers, by Dilbert creator Scott Adams

    Simplifiers and Optimizers, by Dilbert creator Scott Adams

    Some people are what I call simplifiers and some are optimizers. A simplifier will prefer the easy way to accomplish a task, while knowing that some amount of extra effort might have produced a better outcome. An optimizer looks for the very best solution even if the extra complexity increases the odds of unexpected problems. I have a bias for simplification, but surely there are situations in which optimizing is the better play. So how do you know which approach works best in a given situation?

    If the situation involves communication with others, simplification is almost always the right answer. If the task is something you can do all by yourself, or with a partner who is on your wavelength, optimizing might be a better path if you can control most variables in the situation. And realistically, sometimes you simply have to get three hours of tasks completed in two hours, so we don’t always have the luxury of being able to choose simple paths.

    I prefer simplicity whenever I’m choosing a system to use. People can follow simple systems better than complicated ones. I’ll give you some examples of that in later chapters about fitness and diet. The most optimized diet plan or fitness plan will also be the most complicated. But few people have enough willpower in reserve to follow complicated plans.

    If you can’t tell whether a simple plan or a complicated one will be the best, choose the simple one. If it’s a coin toss, you might as well do whatever is easiest.

    If the cost of failure is high, simple tasks are the best because they are easier to manage and control. Missing a dinner reservation isn’t the end of the world, so doing some optimizing in that case is defensible. But if you are driving to an important business meeting, you don’t want to pile on some errands that are “on the way,” because that introduces unwanted stress and uncertainty.

    In my career I’ve always felt that my knack for simplicity was a sort of superpower. For example, when I draw Dilbert I include little or no background art in most panels, and when I do, it’s usually simple. That’s a gigantic time-saver.

    I assume that other cartoonists retire early at least in part because they are optimizers, and that level of energy can be hard to sustain in the long run. No one reads Dilbert comics for the artwork. I have the luxury of being able to do simple drawings directly on the computer using a Wacom Cintiq device (a computer screen on which you can draw). I type the dialogue using a special font I created of my handwriting. Over the years I have streamlined the system to the point where I can bang out a comic in about an hour if I need to, although I usually take longer. Dilbert was designed from the start to be simple to create, and I continue to streamline the process. That simplicity has paid off big-time because it frees me to blog, write books, do interesting side projects, and still enjoy life.

    Optimizing is often the strategy of people who have specific goals and feel the need to do everything in their power to achieve them. Simplifying is generally the strategy of people who view the world in terms of systems. The best systems are simple, and for good reason. Complicated systems have more opportunities for failure. Human nature is such that we’re good at following simple systems and not so good at following complicated systems.

    Excerpt adapted from How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright (c) Scott Adams, 2013.

    Simple systems are probably the best way to achieve success. Once you have success, optimizing begins to have more value. Successful people and successful businesses have the luxury of being able to op- timize toward perfection over time. Start-ups often do better by slapping together something that is 80 percent good and seeing how the public responds. There’s time to improve things later if the market cares about the product.

    Another big advantage of simplification is that it frees up time, and time is one of your most valuable resources in the world. If you give an ant infinite time, he can move a mountain all by himself. In my case, I can run the equivalent of three separate careers (cartoonist, author, entrepreneur) in the same forty-hour week that would normally accommodate one job.

    Simplification frees up energy, making everything else you do just a little bit easier. That’s a huge deal. You don’t want your job interview to go poorly because on the way to the interview you completed four complicated errands that turned you into a ball of stress. When you are trying to decide between optimizing and simplifying, think of your entire day, not the handful of tasks in question. In other words, maximize your personal energy, not the number of tasks. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t always have the option of choosing simplicity, especially if we have a thousand things to complete in a day. But it’s a good idea to have an overarching plan to move toward simple systems as opportunities allow. You can chip away at the complexity of your life over time. Simplicity is a worthy long-term goal. That’s how you will free your personal energy so you can concentrate it where you need it.

    [Listen to Mark's interview with Scott Adams about his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.]


    Notable Replies

    1. "The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently." - Scott Adams

      SOME people are Simple-minded and SOME are optimizing their media choices by not listening to misogynists.

    2. Oh, come, come, now. If the Invisible Hand chooses to pat rich white guys on the head, that means Market Forces have ensured the Optimum Solution. Freedom itself has chosen a winner! Can't grumble about Freedom!

    3. Boing, Boing - you've done it again (sigh). There are so many innovative artists, comic artists, and creative types whose work deserves a wider audience and you've given this platform...to this guy.

    4. Yeah. That's SO MUCH BETTER in "context".
      It's like he was handed an EXTRA shovel to dig his hole.

    5. Well, he certainly didn't optimize comics. (rim shot)

      Thanks for the link. I read the post and his explanation of it and, yeah, he's a real idiot.

      The post was very misogynist and he doesn't seem to understand that. And this post, about how he simplifies things rather than optimizing them, really shows that he meant just what he said.

      Men, apparently, care only about a small number of things and ignore everything else - like, for example, woman making 80% of what men do for the same work. Women, on the other hand, pay attention to all kinds of things that men just don't care about - like, I don't know, women making 80% of what men do for the same work. Those crazy women! They must be optimizers while men - at least his kind of men - are simplifiers, when will they learn?

      But really, lumping women together with children may have been done for dramatic effect rather than because of any deep thought on his part. Instead, here is what tells us how he really feels:

      "But part of being male is the automatic feeling of team."

      The idea that men are all on team 'man' is what allows a lot of men to go on doing nasty things to women. When a white man uses a racial slur in a job interview with another white man, he is showing that he thinks all white people are racist. When Rob Ford (sorry, top of the mind example) talks about how it's okay that he smoked crack because he was in one of his drunker stupors, he is saying that everybody goes into drunken stupors on a somewhat regular basis. When Scott Adams says he likes his team, he is saying that he knows men feel the same way he does - though with a healthy does of No-True-Scotsman, I'm sure. He is saying that women do not feel the same way he does, and he is saying there is no point in trying to bridge the gap. That is two things: 1) a foundation on which to build misogynist rationalizations; and 2) stupidly false.

      Of course, as Adams says, "People don't change opinions just because new information comes in. They interpret the new information as confirmation of their existing opinion."

      Most of us, armed with that knowledge, would start trying to see how we ignore information that goes against us and favour that which agrees with us. We would try to do better. Not Mr. Adams, it would appear. Better to simply accept that this is the human condition and treat everyone with a contempt - somehow missing how contemptible that makes him.

    Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

    80 more replies