Project Practitioners > The Elegance of Simplicity

The Elegance of Simplicity

By Kent McDonald

During the 1960's when NASA was working feverishly to land a man on the moon before the Soviets; one of the challenges they had to overcome was what the astronauts would write with in the weightlessness of space. In order to resolve that problem, the story goes, NASA spent a couple million dollars to develop a pen that would write in zero gravity, only to learn that the Soviets had solved the problem by using pencils.  

As it turns out, NASA initially used wood pencils as well, but soon discovered that graphite dust and electronics don't mesh well and they wanted to avoid as many flammable objects as possible after the Apollo 1 fire.

This apocryphal story still carries a meaningful moral – sometimes the simplest solutions are the most elegant and the most desirable. This is a good thing to remember when thinking about problems you run into on a day to day basis with your projects. Humans have a tendency to seek overly complicated solutions because they seem to indicate a rare genius. What they really signify is a waste of effort.

Next time you face a problem, as the project team is cooking up all kinds of complex solutions, ask yourself: “what is the simplest thing that would work?” You may find that you are able to solve an initially intractable problem in a very straight forward, cost effective, and simple way.

Who knows, it could be a way to write yourself into your organization’s history.



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A good reminder to keep it simple, Kent, thanks!


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