What Does Society Overcomplicate?

Andy Sack once wrote that “Leadership is about making things simple.”

I’ve been thinking about what ideas are overcomplicated in society (usually to benefit one of those pirate-in-necktie capitalists). Here are a few I thought of:

1. Losing Weight — There are only two things to remember: Eat less and exercise more. If people followed these two, basic rules, I guarantee you’d lose weight. Instead, people read books and watch videos and read studies and adopt trendy diets…

2. Becoming a Better Writer — Read more and write more. Period. Instead people buy books on writing, take writing classes, and do most of their “writing” in PowerPoint…

3. Becoming a Better Entrepreneur — Be an entrepreneur. Do entrepreneurship. You may mess up, but I guarantee that by the act of doing (and failing, or succeeding) you’ll become a better entrepreneur. Instead prospecitve entrepreneurs think about it, read books about it, go to conferences, mull it over….

4. Being a Good Parent — Parents should offer love and freedom (emotionally) and room and board (physically). Everything else is trivial. But the massive parenting industry, by perpeutating the “nurture” myth, now says the job includes Baby Einstein cards, daily note-taking on the mood swings of your child, endless tutors, and on and on and on…

Note that just because something’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Parenting, writing, and entrepreneurship are all really hard. But simple.

From your perspective, what’s made out to be complicated that in fact is simple?

25 comments on “What Does Society Overcomplicate?
  • The modern world lacks clarity and simplicity. I see the same thing going on with those who over-educate themselves with college degrees, but accomplish very little on their own. Overcomplicating one’s own education.

    I think multi-tasking is another example of complicating the process of completing tasks.

    Ok, I wouldn’t want to complicate my comments and make it longer than this. 😀

  • love relationships are made to be more complicated then they truly are. its not a tit for tat game between partners. The underlying essence of a real relationship is respect. if you truly respect your partner then you will know how to behave, act, respond and love your partner.

  • I agree with 1-3, and with Meem’s comment about education. This all has to do with taking direct action instead of taking second-order, “indirect” means to improve one’s skills/situation.

    However, I am going to have to disagree with you on the parenting issue. I’ve never been a parent myself, but it seems like every step along the way, there is a tough decision to be made. If your child starts crying every time something doesn’t go exactly right, do you give them attention and try to fix the situation, or do you make them adapt and “tough it out”? The decision could cultivate a “spoiled” mentality or an “impoverished” one. If your child starts bullying some other kids, at what point do you intervene? If your spouse tends to be a bit too restrictive, do you give your child emotional freedom by overriding the spouse’s decision (possibly undermining the child’s trust and obedience to that parent), or do you let the injustice continue? How do you know that you’re not letting your own biases, experiences, and shortcomings affect the way you’re seeing the situation?

    I think that parenting is different from the other four things that actually are overcomplicated by society for a few reasons:
    1) Whereas dieting, education, writing and entrepreneurship all involve the self (either self-actualization or self-expression), parenting involves the minds and worldviews of least two people, and usually involves many more
    2) In entrepreneurship and dieting (and perhaps education and writing), there is a direct correlation between one’s actions and the results of these actions. However, with children, there is a necessary disconnect between their actions and the consequences of these actions, so some intervention must occur. This complicates the situation further.

    So ultimately, it seems like people overcomplicate the things over which they have direct control, and which do not involve other people’s thoughts, beliefs, biases, emotions, etc.

    This seems to lead to another conclusion – people have difficulty figuring out when they should fit into society’s structure, and when they should ignore it. People get comfortable in a certain system, and so when it comes time to assert themselves and change these systems (moving away from self-limiting thoughts like “Other people tend to like me better when they see that I’m human and have trouble losing weight” or “My friends won’t understand my going out on my own and starting my own company”), it seems like people tend to find indirect solutions so they don’t have to take on ‘destiny’ directly.

  • I agree with your thought at a high level, but going along with your rational, one could also ask why do business people spend so much time, money and effort reading business books? Why not just open up a business? Well, because you can learn from others. As the saying goes, a smart man learns from his own mistakes while a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. You can always jump in and learn on the go (by fire), but is that always the best method? I think not.

  • I disagree with you again.

    (One more note: reading is not enough to become a better writing. Reading critically is.

  • Sometimes the simple things are hardest to do. People like to think that there are ways to get around the basics of any discipline, but this is rarely true.

    For instance, regarding weight loss, instead of drinking diet soft drinks in an attempt to curb the health effects of high sugar colas, the simple answer is to just drink water. Get mixed veggies instead of fries with your burger. Get a bag of trail mix or nuts instead of a candy bar.

    It takes time, but when one learns to value simplicity in place of extravagance, even menial tasks become enjoyable.

  • All of these things are “simple”, but only to a sufficiently motivated, self-confident person. Getting yourself into the right head-space is half the battle. Diet gurus know this – that’s why they make so much money. It’s not that the means to achieving X goal is complicated, it’s just that people are complicated.

    Anyway, I think that saving and investing money is another thing that society overcomplicates. Index funds are easier and better than picking stocks. And for most people it’s really not that hard to save at least 10% of each paycheck.

  • This reminds me of somwthing Mike Hendrix wrote, in a different context, a few years ago:

    “I think that overall, we allow – hell, encourage – a very disproportionate and inappropriate level of importance to be attached to what teenagers think and feel.

    Contrary to the accepted wisdom out there, I have thought for a long time now that kids today probably should get a lot less attention, not more. Of course, this doesn’t apply to poor pathetic ghetto kids whose parents barely even acknowledge their existence at all. But these school mass-murders aren’t being done by those kids anyway. It’s the kids who come from comfortable homes, whose parents are at least somewhat high achievers, and who have at least some potential for success in life themselves who are doing the killing out there, or at least the non-gang-related media-spectacular killing anyway.

    I don’t buy the argument that it’s all because Mom and Dad are too career-obsessed and don’t make enough time to throw the old baseball around in the backyard with little Johnny, or to “just talk.” Nor do I think it has anything to do with Johnny’s lowered expectations for his own life brought on by (insert one): a) the threat of nuclear war (an oldie but goodie); b) the perpetually-struggling economy; c) the destruction of our natural environment; d) general cultural malaise and lack of purpose or direction.

    I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that so much of our culture is geared towards making Johnny feel as though he’s the “hope for the future,” that as soon as he or she graduates high school the world will be depending on his wisdom and vision to correct all the wrongs that all of us muddle-headed or greedy adults have been so unable or unwilling to rectify; that we’re all just waiting for little Johnny to walk across that stage, grab that diploma, and get busy showing us what we’ve been doing wrong all these years. That’s a lot of pressure to be putting on kids who basically just want to get drunk, hang out, and cruise chicks.”


  • I agree with israluv that people overcomplicate love and relationships .

    As for the “a smart man learns from his own mistakes while a wise man learns from the mistakes of others” by chris, I think to a point you can learn from others, but you also need to make your own mistakes and learn from them (that experience also is important)

  • I think there’s a big difference between simple and elegant: I think it’s simple to write, but hard to write elegantly. I think it’s simple to be an entrepreneur, but difficult to perform elegantly as one. And parenting doesn’t seem simple at all.

    I think our society overcomplicates things because we are looking for the “elegant” way of doing simple things. In the process, we get lost and don’t even start.

  • Dave Carlson: I am a parent, and I agree with Ben’s statement that parenting is hard but it is simple. You are overcomplicating parenting. It is about finding a balance and sticking to that plan (though the plan will evolve with the child).

    You state that “with children, there is a necessary disconnect between their actions and the consequences of these actions, so some intervention must occur. This complicates the situation further”. I disagree. Most children are acutely aware of the consequences of their actions. Why do they hide things that they are not supposed to have? Or why does a room filled with kids go eerily quiet when something ‘bad’ or ‘not good’ has happened?

  • Ben, I disagree with you about losing weight – but perhaps it’s more of a quibble than an outright disagreement.

    For me, I ate more while losing weight (160+ pounds to date) than I had previously. But what I ate changed dramatically – tons of nutrient-rich foods with low energy density. If you laid out on a table what most fat people eat, there isn’t actually going to be a whole lot of food there compared to what healthier people eat. If I thought I had to eat less in order to lose weight, I’d be doomed by a feeling of deprivation. No, eating more is the key for me.

  • Are you reflecting from experience, or just declaring yourself a strapping, literate tycoon whose adored by his children, and working backwards?

  • I would venture to say that people and society overcomplicate out of a need to feel skilled, important, and knowledgeable. A lot of the niches of over-complication seem to be created from a need to earn money proclaim knowledge. Not everyone can be at the top of their field so some people take that as an impetus to create new fields for themselves. To tie it in to dieting, lets take Dr. Atkins as an example. He likely was not the worlds top cardiologist in what is a very competitive field so he created his own niche using the competitive advantages he did possess (i.e. a medical degree to lend credence to his arguments in the eyes of the public). What Dr. Atkins got was money and a field of supposed expertise. Society in turn received a further complicated diet and health picture and could likely have been just as well served by someone telling them to exercise and don’t eat junk. I don’t mean to pick on Dr. Atkins but he was the first to come to mind among countless other self-help gurus.

  • Chris : Smart or Wise – Which one is better ?

    When you know a guy who went broke by gambling and another who had been enriched by it – would you learn from the loser or the winner ?

    I think the answer should be learn from both and lay down a set of rules (will still be imperfect) to chart your own course. But does that guarantee you’ll make only the right calls at the roulette ? Life’s a game of chance after all and all you get is to hit the ground running except if you choose to stay still and go out of business.

    I’d rather be smart and wise.

  • Awesome post and discussions.

    Let’s see if I can make some sense out of my deranged musings on this subject.

    I feel there is a dark side and a bright side to why society overcomplicates things.

    The bright side: People are willing to overcomplicate things (ie, by reading about everything before they do it) simply because they want to load their heads with the right software. All those books and seminars are giving you a glimpse of what the top looks like. If you don’t know what it looks like, how will you ever reach it or surpass it? Vince Lombardi said something like “I don’t expect perfection…however, I do expect excellence.” And this is why we like to read up and learn so much, rather than doing at first.

    The dark side: Most people need to feel that they need to have permission to lose weight, start a business, or write that book. They ask for permission for everything in their life, and because they don’t trust themselves – think that they’re not good enough – they look for that exterior validation in the form of endless books, seminars, etc. These “gurus” in turn tell them that it’s okay to do what they want. They identify themselves as a person that can’t naturally do the things they would like to do – so they go out and get that validation and finally do it. In my book, if you eventually do it, that’s still good. It’s those who never get down to it whom I feel grief for.

    Other thoughts:

    Our society seems to say that we are not good enough with what we have, and that we have to look elsewhere for the answers. Well, our industries are predicated upon this idea, so we’re always looking for those things that will give us the edge. That’s all good and fine. But I believe we already have the capacity to do everything we want inside us – we just need to develop it. Rather than always depending on outside ideas, we just need to develop our inner writer, our inner entrepreneur, our inner parent. And how do we do this? There is only one way, and Ben and many others have already said it – BY DOING.

    A presumptuous thought on parenting: I’m not a parent, and I believe it’s one of those things you need to experience before really talking about it, so forgive my youthful ignorance. I once heard it say that there are two ways to reach spiritual enlightenment: meditating on a mountain, alone, for 20 years, or having children. What I do know is this: we all come genetically equipped to be parents. Through all these thousands of years of evolution, we somehow figured that one out. To say that you need to do things differently or read endlessly or do ridiculous things with your kids flies in the face of all this. If you want to monitor your parenting style because you want to give your child the best possible experience, more power to you. But never underestimate our power within. And it’s only love they really need (old-fashioned, isn’t it?)

    Finally, one thought that ties up with a previous post that had some people disagreeing. If you can’t DO something, it’s not because you lack the book to tell you about it, or you “lack the resources” for it, or any other mental masturbatory story you tell yourself. It’s simply because you don’t feel ENTITLED to it. The reason most people simply don’t just DO things (ie, lose weight, write), is because they don’t think they deserve it or are entitled to it on an identity-level (note: I’m not talking about an intellectual level here).

    I do believe that some people do things in reverse: they first declare themselves something, and then work to achieve it. When you first declare yourself an expert on something, you’re APPOINTING yourself to that position of expert. So even with a divorce (or a few), if you are congruent with your self-appointment, then you can still be a relationship expert. It was commented before that nobody can declare himself to be something, if they don’t put in the work. Well, only entitlement will get you there.

    My mentor once said, “Do you think anybody who has ever been President of the United States let it happen out of their own volition? Do you think they just pushed him to be President and he said, ‘Oh well, I’ll guess I’ll have to do it?’ No. They appointed themselves President a long time ago.” Interesting.

    Same with those experts. They appointed themselves experts a long time ago.

    So in order to get rid of overcomplications, let’s just appoint ourselves healthy and fit individuals, good writers, good entrepreneurs, and good parents, and then achieve this by simply DOING!

  • People complicate chess a lot. It’s simple.

    Develop your position.
    Keep your king safe.
    Mate the other king.

    How can it get any simpler?

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  • wow, this article is fantastic. it is mainly about health and traditional diets of indigenous people all over the world; however, it addresses the myth of progress, our perceptions of health, view of history, and cultural and economic priorities. it’ s really a big picture article and it’ s well- written. it addresses the following:

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