I want to share a quote that stopped me in my tracks recently.
I was reading this terrific article in National Geographic called “Secrets of the Brain“. It explored the amazing insights that researchers have learned about the brain, and the many insights which are beyond us yet. Here is the quote from the article, centered around an interview with Dr. Van Wedeen, a physicist and radiologist at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital:
When Wedeen first unveiled the grid structure of the brain, in 2012, some scientists were skeptical, wondering if he’d uncovered only part of a much more tangled anatomy. But Wedeen is more convinced than ever that the pattern is meaningful. Wherever he looks—in the brains of humans, monkeys, rats—he finds the grid. He notes that the earliest nervous systems in Cambrian worms were simple grids—just a pair of nerve cords running from head to tail, with runglike links between them. In our own lineage the nerves at the head end exploded into billions but still retained that gridlike structure. It’s possible that our thoughts run like streetcars along these white matter tracks as signals travel from one region of the brain to another.
“There’s zero chance that there are not principles lurking in this,” says Wedeen, peering intently at the image of my brain. “We’re just not yet in a position to see the simplicity.” (emphasis mine).
That last line was the one that stopped me. A brilliant researcher says he’s unable to “see the simplicity” that he suspects is there.
Simplicity eludes us in product design for so many reasons. Regulation. Competing technologies. Inertia. Complex products.
But simplicity is what will enable some banks to win, and others to fail. Go here for more on that topic.
Years ago, I was part of a financial services technology firm that acquired an account aggregation company. “Account aggregation” means they use (in many cases) rudimentary technology to log in to your many financial accounts, and gather them in one place so you can see all your account balances/activity.
Several years after that, a start-up called Mint came out with the same thing. But it was, well, easier. More beautiful. More visual. More “fun”.
Intuit acquired Mint for $170,000,000. ($170M, but sometimes it’s fun to put in the zeros to communicate the point). So “simple” pays.
Here are two images I have of what “simple” means. Do you have your own?
* The time I opened my first Apple iPod. The packaging was white, and as I opened the box, I read this simple phrase printed in gray against a white background: “Made In California”. Very cool. Very simple. There was no user manual. Just a device with a simple design and the belief that it would be intuitive enough for me to figure out without wading through a paper booklet. I can’t think of too many consumer experiences that made such an impression on me before I ever pulled the item from the box.
* The Japanese tea ceremony. Centuries of tradition and discipline around the sharing of tea in a simple, yet powerful, way.
Finding the simplicity in a world of complexity requires patience and discipline. Good luck as you take your own journey.