KISS or Keep It Simple, Stupid

March 9, 2011 10 Comments

Fender Telecaster

“The Fender Telecaster is an instrument of beautiful simplicity.” Jim Mauradian, luthier.

For you non-guitar geeks this may take a moment to explain. The electric guitar as we know it today, is a product of the 1950’s. Back in the stone ages of electric guitar making, it was an accepted practice to trick out the instrument with as many buttons, knobs and toggle switches as could be fit on a block of wood. And dang it if those guitars didn’t look sweet. Problem was, most of those guitars sounded like crap and because of the complex nature of the design, were in constant need of adjustment when not in a state of total ill-repair.

In response to this over complicating trend, a Luthier named Leo Fender set about to design and produce an electric guitar that was (1) simple to use, (2) durable, and (3) sounded great. Leo Fender’s genius was in stripping away all of the unnecessary crap, reducing the design to the barest essentials.

The product of his design was an electric guitar called the Fender Telecaster, which to this day is considered by many guitarists (myself included) to be the platinum standard of guitars. Go figure.

I wonder how it might look if we consistently applied Leo Fender’s approach to our own work and lives. Thoughts? Anyone want to put in a good word for complexity?


  • Curtis says:

    What comes to mind for me is Cynthia’s phrase “the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” My grandfather used to go crazy about poetry that was simply slapped down on the page and submitted to him (he was an English literature professor and a writer). He implored his students to not simply go with their emotional knee-jerk reaction, but to spend time honing their impulses, really laboring, to reach the more refined simplicity of word and expression on the other side of these machinations. I think the problem is that we can make things too complex that really aren’t or sometimes get stuck in complexity and process and lose site of that far shore of beautiful simplicity.

  • Linda says:

    Love this. And Fender clearly spent the time to figure out what was required so that he could come up with a design that did just that.

  • Gibran says:

    I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately Charlie, trying to figure out better ways to communicate this sense of shift and becoming aware that there must be a more simple way to bring these ideas forward. However, as Linda and Curtis point out, I am also aware that it involves inhabiting this complexity and potential confusion on the way to a simplicity that actually illustrates what is wanting to emerge.

  • Linda says:

    Rethinking what I posted here yesterday. Maybe he spent time figuring this out – or maybe it was just an intuitive sense of what was most important. Was this a planning process or just messing around?

  • Andria Winther says:

    Really appreciate the metaphor Charlie and the nudge to seek out the “simplicity on the other side of complexity” (great quote CSP). Sometimes an iconic image can serve as a great reminder and catalyst.

  • Cynthia says:

    Wish I could take credit for “simplicity on the other side of complexity” but I can’t. I believe it’s Daniel Pink’s (from A Whole New Mind.)And, I’m challenged by the concept because sometimes complex situations do call for complex, nuanced analysis and understanding, and sometimes they call for down-right complex solutions. Take the climate change challenge. From what I’m told, there is no single elegant, high leverage move that will bring carbon emissions down to an acceptable standard. It will take 30, 40, 50 maybe more discrete actions, taken in concert if we have a hope of reversing the course the planet is on.

  • JD Webb says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this post.

  • Beth Tener says:

    How about considering the simplicity within the complexity, meaning that there are first-order principles underlying any complex system. The Natural Step approach to sustainability talks about “Simplicity without reduction” using a metaphor of a tree – if we can agree on the trunk and branches, i.e., the basic principles of how nature works, then the leaves become the thousands of ways we act. Here’s a quote from an article about this (link below): “Simplicity without reduction refers to the fact that understanding the principles that define a given system, its first-order principles, makes it easier to handle the complexity of the details within the system.”

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