Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

Bushra Rehman Khan
3 min readJun 6, 2021
Photo by Jess @ Harper Sunday on Unsplash

There once lived a king who sent for the best artists in the world for he was to hold a competition. Two teams — the Chinese and the Greek arrived and were allotted a dilapidated old building, each. They were asked to renovate, redesign, carve, paint as they pleased.

The Chinese got to work and before long had turned the wreckage into a palace with beautiful sculptures, paintings and all imaginable art work rendered in brilliant colors. No surface was left, there was food for eyes everywhere — overwhelmingly gorgeous.

The king, then, asked the Greeks to unveil their work. They pulled off the giant canvas that covered their building – behold! The Greeks had scraped and rubbed every corner of the ruin, patiently and thoroughly, so that the bare stones shined like mirrors and so the building reflected all the art of the Chinese building.

The simplicity of the Greek style you did the same, if not better, results.

Simplicity: The Full Circle

The meaning of the word simplicity is the quality or condition of being easy to do or to understand.

In ancient times, from hunting-gathering to mainly agrarian societies — all had localised lives and livelihoods. Simple routines, culture and troubles. Food abundance led to social stratification, the rise of kings, fortifications, wars, uncertainty, and complex forms of religion and worship.

Industrial revolution led to the breakup of old ways and social relations. A form of globalisation began with colonisation, slavery, more wars, and the forging of multifaceted identities.

The 21st century sees abundance turn into consumerism which, in turn, has morphed into the bane of the planet. However, there is a competing trend — a sliver of hope.

If one was to Google productivity, they would get two kinds of search results. One, the typical consumerist suggestion of getting that app or gadget or service to increase productivity.

The second type would be the minimalist type. Focusing on decluttering, essentialism and the like. This approach preaches perfection not by addition of something but as reaching a point where nothing can be subtracted to make something better.

The circle of simple life and simplicity is slowly but surely coming to a full again.

Extravagance: Sophistication is Simplicity

Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and many others choose to wear the same type and colour of clothes every day. With the sheer number of choices one has to make in this world of abundance, to curb decision fatigue, this is a simple choice many make. But this remarkably simple choice is also highly sophisticated.

Leaders, in politics and in business, choose to automate such frivolous and inconsequential choices so that their other, more important decisions are taken in the best possible frame of mind.

Accessibility: The Synonym of Simplicity

A recent Indian movie Kagaz covers the story of a man who discovers, while applying for a loan, that he has been declared dead in official records. He, then, trudges the long and difficult path to setting this record straight.

From writing to officials to tens of visits to various departments and offices, he spends years to no avail. He even resorts to indulging in criminal activities to get arrested!

One of the most frequent and pervasive complaints against bureaucracy is of accessibility.

Accessibility is centred around four principles — perceivability, understandability, operability and robustness.

Simplification of procedures, especially bureaucratic ones, yields dividends for all four. Additionally, it increases efficiency and thereby confidence in the system. Simplicity, therefore, leads to both accessibility and sophistication.

Simplicity and Sophistication: The Reinforcement Cycle

Time is unidirectional, it only moves forward. Therefore, wishing for simplicity of a bygone era is futile. However, the cutting edge technologies of today can be and are being used to enhance simple access to the most sophisticated resources available.

The want and desire of simplicity and ease, on the other hand, necessitate the birth of improvements in technologies. This cycle of feedback will, eventually, forge better connections, better cultures and a better world.

PS: The story of Greek and Chinese artists is from Jalaluddin Rumi’s Mathnawi.

This is an essay written from the perspective of an examination requirement. Suggestions to improve this piece of writing are actively sought and welcome.

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