Simplicity from Complexity - change yourself (and the world)


Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 5 March 2018 ( )


1. A simplicity dividend is a bigger idea than efficiency because it includes efficiency with benefits - for all parties. A simple system that runs badly is not really simple because it has negative dividends. This can be applied to your life, to a company, or to the governance of a country. So what does it mean to aim for simplicity with positive dividends? Usually it means understanding and redesigning something complex to access it in a simpler way. What examples can you think of?

2. If you had a guaranteed basic income, describe how you would restructure your life for a simplicity dividend.

3. In any population, people have very different levels of competence and comprehension at whatever we try to measure. Almost 47% of Australians are functionally illiterate to the point of being unable to read bottle labels. Many or the rest struggle with more than a paragraph of text (hence the success of Facebook, Twitter etc). Even more are innumerate. It is similar with computer literacy. So if a government creates a computerized administrative system which looks simpler to bureaucrats, but exceeds the competence of many clients, there will be no simplicity dividend for either party. Reference: Centrelink. How can we solve this dilemma?

4. Many service industries claim to save clients 'time'. Often what they really offer is a simplicity dividend. They offer a simple or simpler interface to clients on issues which might be rather complex behind the scenes. Sometimes that arbitrage is artificial (e.g. lawyers thrive on manufacturing apparent complexity). The client pays a high fee to get their simplicity dividend in the form of being able to get on with their lives with less hassle. People who lack technical competence may be unable to function at all without the mediation of a fixer (e.g. be unable to set up a mobile phone or plan a flight itinerary). What are some problems with just allowing the market to set the price doe this kind of simplicity dividend?

5. Large numbers of people either want to or are forced (by the labour market) to start their own business. However a high proportion of these people lack various kinds of competence or aptitude to actually start and run a successful business. Franchises offer a simplicity dividend to these people in the form of templates which guide franchise clients (to a greater or lesser degree) in the actual processes of commercial business. Given the personal limitations of franchise holders, how often is the simplicity dividend they try to purchase illusory? Is there a better or fairer way to arbitrate the risks and losses?

6. A smart phone can contain 2 billion or more transistors. The internal functions are beyond the comprehension of all but a few specialists. Yet the simplified interface of smart phones (and of operating systems generally) has offered a simplicity dividend which is changing civilizations. These smart phones enable non technical people to do things which they had never thought possible before. What general principles we can extract from this smart phone example? e.g. what kinds of technical innovation are going to offer major simplicity dividends to large numbers of people?

7. When students graduate at whatever level with no further desire to retain, then deepen their knowledge (as opposed to obtaining yet another paper diploma), then the educational process has failed. This is in spite of ever increasing educational costs and ever proliferating institutions. If you accept this premise, then education systems seriously fail most students. If you had oversight of Australian educational systems, how would you seek a simplicity dividend for both providers and students, given current weaknesses?

8. When confidence exceeds competence, people are apt to do stupid things and have stupid opinions. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect (after a series of psychological experiments). That is, when people don't know what they don't know, they tend to think that things are simpler than they really are. They are seeking a simplicity dividend when there is none to be had. This is sometimes a problem of youth or inexperience, sometimes it is a matter of ingrained personality. The current presidency of the United States is a striking example, (but it is also common to politics generally). What is the best way to handle those people, or groups of people, who are seeking simplicity dividends where there are none to be had?

9. West African email scams offering love or a surprise inheritance use clumsy language but are profitable. They work because they select victims for stupidity, which is exactly what the principals want. Australian recruitment advertisements typically use vague, misleading and inflated language. They regularly select candidates who are vague, misleading and have inflated confidence. There is research to show that average recruitment outcomes are no better than tossing a coin. If you were the human resources manager for a large organization how would you restructure recruitment to obtain a simplicity dividend for both employers and candidates?

10. Humans always seek a certain level of complexity, but that level is different for each individual. For personal harmony it must be neither too complex nor too simple. All societies reflect this complexity. For example, the lives of hunter-gatherer groups may seem materially simple, but invariably they have complex spiritual beliefs, myth cycles and genealogical conventions. As modern societies have multiplied material complexity they have tended to simplify or even eliminate the mythic and spiritual dimensions. Does this suggest that there is some optimum simplicity dividend governed by human psychology? How could such an optimum simplicity dividend be estimated?

11. Estonia has come up with a rather original idea. Anyone in the world can obtain an Estonian e-identity card. With an Estonian e-identity card you can open an Estonian bank account remotely, start and register a company and perform many other bureaucratic tasks cheaply with a few button clicks. A condition is that the Estonian government must have access to your bank account at all times. However you have automatic access to see at any time who has accessed your personal information, why, and the ability to ask that each access be justified. This is intended to minimize corruption. In fact, Estonia, a small country, is putting its entire government into an integrated and backed up system which can be moved intact to another country such as England should Russia ever invade. The e-identity card offers a simplicity dividend for Estonians, and a potential simplicity dividend for international citizens who can outsource functions away from their home government (e.g. preparing tax returns) to an automated system optimized for efficiency. How well do you think this might or might not work? Give reasons. Background article: "An Estonian e-residency identity card - The most advanced digital society in the world is a former Soviet Republic on the edge of the Baltic Sea" @



Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Simplicity Dividends - What can we do with this idea? (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion