Complexity is the hiding place of a bad idea

Occam’s razor says an idea that makes the fewest assumptions is probably the best one to go with.

This means that if you have a simple explanation and a complicated one you are much better off going with the simple one.

Never is this more noticeable than when looking at the use of language.

Dave Trott said that “people disguise bad thinking with long words”.

George Orwell wrote an essay on the subject; Politics and the English Language.

“Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement”

The process of dressing up a simple statement makes it complex and yet in my experience people take pride in the effort of dressing up a simple statement.

It is something I am forced to contend with in my job every day.

Clients and colleagues don’t always want the simple answer because it doesn’t sound like enough work has gone into it.

Instead they want the answer to be dressed up and short words replaced by long ones.

Time and again I have seen pieces of writing worked through, the editor carefully replacing simple words with longer, less-common words.

Even worse, whilst working in Guernsey a rival company launched itself into the market with an elaborate ‘manifesto’.

The ‘manifesto’ proceeded to break all of the rules set out by Orwell in his 1946 essay.

Not a problem in itself however the essay finished with a quotation:

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

The quotation comes from Orwell, who’s image is now emblazoned on the office wall of said company.

Complexity hiding a bad idea in action.

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