Are You a Complicator or a Simplifier?

Some people are complicators, I think, and others are simplifiers. Complicators are individuals who look at a problem and see multiple layers of interesting detail. Simplifiers are people who look at a problem and immediately try and find patterns.

Complicators are more likely to be right, I think, but also more likely to never get to a solution. Leaders tend to be simplifiers.

I’m a complicator who aspires to be a simplifier and who tries to think like a simplifier but can’t entirely escape his complicator default. I think that’s part of what makes me an effective instructional designer.

I should back up to make something clear. I don’t really believe that people fall into these categories. People are way more complicated than that. Models that put people into neat boxes (DISC, MMPI) normally rub me the wrong way because they are caricatures that limit our possibilities. Still, the distinction between complicators and simplifiers is one I think about sometimes. And the point of models is to give us different ways to consider the world around us.

I was describing the model to an exceptionally thoughtful colleague one day (Zackery, comment if I’m mischaracterizing any of this), and he suggested an intriguing second dimension: optimism. He characterized himself as a pessimistic complicator and me as an optimistic complicator. Pessimistic tends to be a pejorative label, but he characterized a pessimistic complicator as someone who sees complications as a motivating force that drives problem solving, as opposed to optimistic complicators, who get excited about all the possibilities presented in the details.Complicators and Simplifiers.pngAn optimistic simplifier, then, would be one who gets excited about big ideas and wants to make them bigger by combining them with other big ideas. A pessimistic simplifier would be good at finding the pattern that needs immediate attention.

In this model, and in contrast to my default leadership model, pessimism is where it’s at in order to get stuff done–particularly when teamed with optimists.

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