The man to whom the above quote is attributed had considerable capability when it came to thinking… in fact he is considered by many (myself included) to possess the most innovative / creative mind of all time. His name… Leonardo Da Vinci.
There was a younger contemporary of Leonardo… who also happened to be rather talented. His name… Michelangelo.
Both of these men had remarkable capabilities and talents. Their skill levels were immense and both were capable of creating work of enormous complexity. At least that’s how it was perceived by other… less talented and less inspired artists. Alas…they saw things others could not. The quotes above give us a clear indication that their philosophy, their aesthetic values and clarity of vision, were indeed inspirationally simple. They were both very “clear” in their belief that “less” is in fact…. “more“.
Many years later there was of course another relatively intelligent man… who told us that “things should be made as simple as possible… but not simpler”. And just in case anyone wanted to argue with his theory on simplicity he constructed an equation which managed to capture the known laws of the universe. His e=mc2 equation is so elegant… so ingenious, that it redefined physics. His theory of relativity as represented by this equation redefined what I like to call “complexity surrounded by simplicity”.
To give you another example of “complexity surrounded by simplicity”… think about this. The deepest penetration levels achieved by devices/inventions used in every day life over the past 100 years have been achieved by the “telephone” and “electricity”. Why? Because the complexity of the inner workings of these inventions were hidden from the user. Anybody… even a 100-year old, can use a telephone and turn on a light switch. They don’t need to know how the telephone exchange works or how electricity is generated and/or distributed. They just need to know how to “dial a number” and “flick a switch”. THAT…is “complexity surrounded by simplicity”.
As people we have developed a predisposition to complicate things… to believe we are superior because “we understand” and “they don’t”… to basically believe our own bullshit. We confuse ourselves about what’s important and delude ourselves about what is the essence of our existence. We complicate our lives to the point where we lose the plot completely… and then we blame everyone but ourselves and ask for divine assistance or buy a book on “zen”, which ever is closer and easier at the time. We are seemingly incapable of learning from nature or even from our “enlightened” fellow humans. If Leonardo, Michelangelo and Albert, tell us that ‘less is more’… you’d think we’d listen. But alas… we don’t.
A few years back I was addressing the board of a state-owned electrical utility. Twelve senior execs sitting on a long table looking at me… perplexed at what I was saying to them. Almost all of them from an engineering background… their conceptual understanding of customer service was virtually non-existant. A customer was an account number to them. An address…nothing more, nothing less. In an effort to help them understand that their view of the “customer” was Jurassic… I asked them: “gentlemen… I’m curious, what business are you in exactly?”
The next five minutes were taken up by monologues about “electricity generation”, “electricity distribution”, “poles & wires” etc etc etc. The senior engineers had a stereotypical view of the organisation’s “purpose for being”. I nodded as they spoke and then said “gentlemen… if I may, I would like you to consider this… that the business you are in is in fact the “PEACE OF MIND’ business”. As I spoke I turned and wrote these words on the blank white board… then turned and said “you see gentlemen… the customer doesn’t give a flying f… how you generate electricity… how you bring it to the cities or how you distribute it across millions of homes… all he wants to know is that when he flicks the switch- the power goes ON. Your product is electricity… but your business is quite simply ‘peace of mind’ “.
With that I walked away to the side and looked at all of them… looking at the board.
You could’ve heard a pin drop…
Somehow I don’t think anyone had ever explained to them the simplicity of their business in the eyes of the customer. They always chose to see it through the eyes of engineers… a view completely removed from the eyes of the customer. To them it was about the complexities of the network… to the customer it was about seeing the light when he flicked the switch.
But life is funny and the universe works in mysterious ways. For the utility executives there was a tsunami called “deregulation” that came along and proved to them that paying attention to the customer may not be a bad idea after all. They became very grateful for seeing the light… so to speak. Similarly bankers and financial market players have come to realise that you can only complicate things so much. Sooner or later they will unravel and then there will be nowhere to hide. It’s funny how a disaster makes people think that they should’ve kept things simple in the first place.
It doesn’t have to be a disaster either… it can just be elegant innovation. The computer industry up until now was run my engineers. Complexity and geek-talk reigned supreme. Then… along comes a guy that actually focuses on design & the user experience. A heretic, a pirate (as the early Mac guys were known). He makes things simple… as simple as possible but not simpler. He hides the complexity and surrounds it with elegant simplicity. He pays total attention on the “user experience” as well as the aesthetics and styling. He sells you “Peace of Mind” incased in Michelangelo design. Now…the rest of them (computer executives) are like that long table of utility engineers…their mouths open, trying to work out WTF is going on. Simplicity and elegant styling has come along and virtually put them out of business… imagine that !
I guess by now you’re wondering what the hell all this has to do with Oia…or Santorini…or the Greek islands. I say EVERYTHING !
You see… simplicity of lifestyle has always been the most important and essential element of an islander’s existence. Everything in the house had a purpose… every room, every wall curve, every inch of the yard and the garden, served a purpose. There was no waste. Water was captured from the skies and the night moisture… the houses were designed to be warm in winter and cool in summer… and there were no Monsanto freakazoid seeds growing in their plots of land. Everything was pure, healthy, simple and self sufficient. Over the centuries their lives had been simplified and made totally efficient… completely aligned to their environment. To this day most of the islands live like this. Sure… tourism has left a footprint and a lot of the traditions of island lifestyle are under threat. But only if you let it happen. There are still infinite pleasures to be experienced as every day life on these islands… that city dwellers don’t even dream about.
I am not saying you should all move to the nearest island or rain forest. All I am saying is don’t underestimate the benefits of a simpler lifestyle.
A simplified life is not an empty life. It is not an unsophisticated life. Leonardo knew what he was talking about… and so did Michelangelo. Inside the chunk of marble that is a complicated life…is a work of art waiting to be carved free.
Emcsquare your life… carve away the excess marble, make your life a work of art.