Simplicity is Genius

There is a time and place for stripping away the technical talk and focusing on actual practical benefits.

Peter Williams, Chief Technology Officer, CJC


I recently experienced an epiphany in how I communicate ideas. It all started during a conversation I had with a business partner, with whom I'm working to develop a new service. Like me, she is genuinely excited by technology and will gladly talk for hours about innovation in our industry. What's more, she is utterly unafraid of tearing up the rule book and striving not only to embrace the future, but to speed its arrival.

However, we are facing the same myriad of problems which are typical when attempting to move away from established, legacy systems onto what is perceived to be risky, new technology. In a rare moment of despair, I was lamenting how difficult it was to persuade people to try something new. I accept that some struggle to accept technology change, seemingly frightened and fixated on factors which I and other people like me take for granted as perfectly normal, safe and low risk. At some point during our mutual hand-wringing, she said something along the lines of; "it's basically the same as what they have already, only it's using a better, more scalable delivery method and it's cheaper to run. Why are they so afraid?”

I think it hit us at about the same moment; she had just stripped down the problem into a simple statement. Instead of describing it, as I had done, in terms of it being a Docker container-based, micro services deployment into the public cloud, using automated orchestration and deployment tooling, (just saying that admittedly leaves me short of oxygen), she had just described the solution in simple, non-techie, business terms.

This really got me thinking.

Early in my adult life, when I was asked what I did, I invariably took a deep breath and launched into a 5 minute overview of financial markets, how data is essential to them and how the technology that made that all possible was where I came in. I got a lot of blank stares and bored expressions.

Over the years I've learned to simply reply; "I work in IT for banks" and people seem perfectly satisfied with that explanation.

And maybe that's it. I'll talk all day about Kubernetes, micro services, dynamic scaling, dev ops work flows, edge processing etc. with anyone, but maybe it's better to keep things simple. 'Normal' people, not as unashamedly nerdy as me, only really care about what the thing does for them, not how it does it. 

In the same way, I love cars but have no understanding or interest in how an engine works. If I was buying a car and someone said:

"The SKYACTIV-G gasoline engine, for example, uses a 13:1 compression ratio in North America, where the norm is 10:1. SKYACTIV-G vehicles in Europe have a 14:1 ratio, since more people in Europe use high-octane gasoline regularly."

…they would get an uncomfortable silence from me, and then I'd ask something like "is it easy to clean kids' vomit off the seats?"

As much as I love technology, there is a time and place for stripping away the technical talk and focusing on the actual practical benefits. That's an important revelation for me and a nice challenge because as the saying goes; "if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

The simplest ideas are often the best so maybe it's also true of the simplest explanations.

Peter Williams