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Complicated vs Complex

The topic of complicated vs complex is not new. I can not remember which blog I picked it up from, but googling will get you a plethora of pages. I thought I’d redraw the picture.


+---------------------------------------+
| Problem |
| ^ |
| | . |
|Complex | D . C |
| | . |
| |.................. |
| | . |
|Simple | A . B |
| | . |
| +------------------> Solution |
| Simple Complicated |
+---------------------------------------+

So there are four regimes:

  • A: Simple solutions for simple problems. This is run of the mill engineering, known techniques, working out the solutions. Let’s call it manufacturing.
  • B: Sometimes, however, you will have people that will want to appear intelligent, and they will overdesign a solution, making it complicated in the process. This is the worst quadrant to be in, though some people who prefer to appear smart will and thus see it otherwise. I’ll call it consultancy (or if you want, marketing).
  • C: This is the standard regime for problems that are complex and that have not been solved before. They are big and tough to solve, and initially one can imagine that complicated solutions will arise. This is what engineering is all about.
  • D: However, ideally, one would find a simple solution to a complex problem. And this, although it is the hardest of all, this is what I believe science should be about.

Just a thought :)

Edit: I had a brief conversation about this with a colleague. And just because I call C engineering does not mean it’s not research. Obviously it can be research, just that it would be engineering research and not science research (in the computer science sense, for instance).

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3 Comments

  1. kalid says:

    Just saw this on reddit. I had a similar thought — I think the terms “simple” and “complex” aren’t descriptive enough terms.

    Thinking about it more, I came up with simple/complicated (describing elegance) and simplistic/complex (describing power).

    Something like e=mc^2 is simple (easy to understand) yet complex (describes powerful behavior). I think this is the goal of design.

    I wrote about it more here if you are interested:
    http://betterexplained.com/articles/combining-simplicity-and-complexity/

  2. yh says:

    Just dropping by and thought I’d say hi. Haven’t talked to you for a while, hope all is going well with you! I generally don’t log on to MSN very often now. Even if I do, I seldom talk with ppl (well then why do I ever log on in the first place……). Anyway, take care then! And talk to u maybe soon! :D

    Jessie

  3. Jessie says:

    Just dropping by and thought I’d say hi. Haven’t talked to you for a while, hope all is going well with you! I generally don’t log on to MSN very often now. Even if I do, I seldom talk with ppl (well then why do I ever log on in the first place……). Anyway, take care then! And talk to u maybe soon! :D

    Jessie

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