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Simplexity is an emerging theory that proposes a possible complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity. The term draws from General Systems Theory, Dialectics (philosophy) and Design. Jeffrey Kluger wrote a book about this phenomenon that describes how house plants can be more complicated than industrial plants, how a truck driver's job can be as difficult as a CEO's and why 90% of the money donated to help cure diseases are given only to the research of 10% of them (and vice versa).
- Complexity tends to rise as system elements specialize and diversify to solve specific challenges.
- Simple interfaces tend to improve the usability of complex systems.
History of the term
Like most terms, it has been shaped through dialogues and discussion. Several individuals have participated in the development of the meaning of this term in both formal and informal venues. Most notable is Anuraj Gambhir who is attributed with the creation and popularisation of this term through various presentations and conferences around the world.
One of the first formally published instances of the word was in the journal 'Childhood Education' (1924), in the article it appears to be used to discuss education and psychology related issues.
The complexity of algorithms and of mathematical problems is one of the central subjects of theoretical computer science. Simplexity was whimsically defined by computer scientists Broder and Stolfi as a concept worthy of as much attention as complexity:
"The simplexity of a problem is the maximum inefficiency among the reluctant algorithms that solve P. An algorithm is said to be pessimal for a problem P if the best-case inefficiency of A is asymptotically equal to the simplexity of P."
The concept of Simplexity was amplified in the mid 1970s by Bruce Schiff (self-described theorist) and restated as "The process by which nature strives towards simple ends by complex means. The result of a simple random act can only be predicted by complicated means. The spatial placement of each atom in a transplanted plant root ball is difficult to predict, but, the plant will adapt its root ball to the hole, and continue to thrive. This conceptual expression harkens back to original statements of Newton, "Nature is pleased with simplicity", Dalton, "rule of greatest simplicity," and Einstein, "Nature is the realization of the simplest conceivable mathematical ideas."
- By dealing with approximately ten ternary structural groupings we can cover the most important structures of science and technology specific to the non-metallics world. It is a remarkable instance of nature's 'simplexity'.
In 2003, simplexity has been defined by Philippe Compain in the context of an article on the future of synthetic chemistry as follows:
The quest for simplicity constitutes indeed the basis for all future challenges of chemical synthesis including diversity, selectivity and green chemistry. Due to the almost infinity of molecules that could in theory be synthesized, the focus of synthetic research has been shifted gradually from target-oriented synthesis to diversity-oriented synthesis (divergent synthesis). A scientific approach based on the power of the molecular construction game and guided by an ideal for simplicity, has a high potential for discovery. The creative combination of synthetic methodologies, mixing simplicity and maximization of structural complexity, is indeed expected to be a powerful tool to produce unprecedented molecular structures with beneficial properties for mankind.
Simplexity became the topic of formal discussion at the Hamburg Trend Day in Germany. Among the formal contributors were Peter Wippermann, Dr. Norbert Bolz, David Bosshart, Designer Ora Ito, Markus Shepherd, Susane Tide Frater.
Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) by Jeffrey Kluger details many ways in which simplexity theory can be applied to multiple disciplines. Kluger offers a look at simplexity at work in economics, sports, linguistics, technology, medicine, and dozens of human behaviors. Simplexity also provides insight into how readers can improve their lives by understanding the interplay of complexity and simplicity.
Simplexity has been used by Jens Nordvig to describe the particular aim of his analytics firm Exante Data.
"Maybe the best word for what we are trying to achieve is simplexity. A research product that draws on a very complex analytical foundation, but is presented in a very simple and easy to digest manner. ... This concept of simplexity may be important in a much broader sense. The general idea of simplexity could be key to effectively service a growing community of so-called “quantmental” fund managers that use large amounts of data and modeling in their processes, while still applying a human touch in the final investment decisions. We think simplexity will be increasingly important to how we develop our overall research at Exante."
Professor Peter Wipperman proposed a social definition
"We long for simplicity and satisfaction. Simplexity therefore stands for a balance between the growing complexity of daily life and our own personal satisfaction. In order to attain this state, we have to stop always striving to make optimal decisions. In the future, it will be more important to make judgments that are just good enough."
- (Unknown). Childhood Education Published 1924. Association for Childhood Education International.
- Broder, Andrei and Jorge Stolfi. "Pessimal Algorithms and Simplexity Analysis."
- Rustum Roy & Olaf Müller (1974) The Major Ternary Structural Families, pages 3 & 4,Springer-Verlag ISBN 9780387064307
- Philippe Compain "The challenge of simplexity. The simple and the complex in organic synthesis" Act. Chim., 2003, 263-264, pages 129-134.
- Philippe Compain et al. "Looking forward: a glance into the future of organic chemistry" New J. Chem., 2006, 30, pages 823-831.
- A. Lipinski, F. Lombardo, B. W. Dominy, P. J. Feeney, Adv. Drug Delivery Rev. 2001,46,3.
- "Letter: Simplexity in Research". exante data. Exante Data. Retrieved 2018-05-03.
- Wipperman, Peter. (year unknown). Ars Electronica[permanent dead link]
- Jack Cohen. Ian Stewart. (1995). The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World. ISBN 0-14-017874-0
- Goldsmith, Julian R. (1953) "A 'Simplexity Principle' and its Relation to Ease of Crystalization". The Journal of Geology. University of Chicago Dept. of geology and paleontology. University of Chicago Press.
- Journal of Personality Assessment.
- Kluger, Jeffrey (2008) Simplexity Simplexity
- Berthoz, Alain (2012). Simplexity: Simplifying Principles for a Complex World
Dan Geesin first used the term 'Simplexity' in his essay 'The melancholy of the set square', 2002, when describing how technology creates more distance through complex interfaces whilst performing a simple task. For example, getting money from a bank machine. He describes how in between the chain of interfaces there is more room for error. More interfaces, more potential problems.
- Plaisant, Catherine (2004) "Information Visualization and the Challenge of Universal Usability"
- Conference Proceedings
- de Groen, P. C., Dettinger, Richard, and Johnson, Pete. Mayo Clinic/IBM computational biology collaboration: A simple user interface for complex queries. In: Universal Access in HCI, Volume 4 of the Proceedings of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) International, 2003, pages 1083–1087.
- Humane Systems Design blog. "Simplexity: Simple and Complex"
- A Conversation with Anders Hejlsberg (July 2003). "Components, and Simplexity".
- Complexity versus Simplicity: It's Time for Simplexity (Blogeintrag, 2. March 2006)
- Flying Sparks: Simplexity (Blogeintrag 11. March 2006) (German)
- Simplexity.co.uk Simplexity UK management consultancy