More (or Less) complicated than you think

I had several interesting experiences yesterday.  In all of the cases, the subject of my work was much more or much less complicated than what I initially thought.  Some examples:

Case #1: I was working with an engineer who had a problem with CSS.  He is only loosely familiar with CSS, so he was freaking out.  He was proposing a massive re-architecture of the system.  I wrote down the one line of CSS for him and the problem was solved.  2 weeks of work or 20 seconds?  In this case, it was 20 seconds.  This exact problem yesterday happened twice with two separate engineers within 2 hours of each other.

Case #2: I had a seemingly small request to add a link to a help menu.  The task was simple and could be done at any time.  However, once we delved into the details, there were lots of use cases that had unsatisfactory experiences related with them.  Each turn to fix the problem was met with more and more depth and complexity, both technical and UX.  What seemed like a 15 minute solution turned into a “go back and do homework” exercise.

Case #3: A co-worker thought someone was mad at them.  They had been feeling bad for 6 hours about it.  Yuck.  Finally, they went to the other party and asked them about it.  Turns out it was nothing and there was no negative feeling in the first place.  It was just a mis-read of signals.  6 hours of negative feeling for something that wasn’t even there and took 3 minutes to fix.

Case #4: Lastly, I was watching a demo of something a new engineer developed.  He showed the functionality in one part of the app and started to close the window.  “Wait!” I yelped.  What about the 4 other sections of the app that would be affected by this change?  In each case, I could feel the room thinking, “Wow, I didn’t realize this one change was so complicated.  This is a big app.”  What he thought was a 5 minute demo took a half hour and uncovered many edge cases.

We are flawed machines, us humans.  We can not think that far ahead and we often mis-calculate the complexity (or lack thereof) of things right in front of us.  We do this every day.  I saw Barack Obama on John Stewart defending the last two years by saying, “If your point is that we didn’t solve healthcare overnight….then sure, that’s valid.”  How complicated do people think government is?  “Cut Taxes” and all will be well is pretty retarded.  Things are more complicated than that.  However, sometimes a simple change of language in a bill means the difference between legal and illegal for the supreme court.

One day, when we have computer implants in our brains or we scan our consciousness into a nano-bot swarm in a matrix, then we will be able to think ahead better.  Until then, just assume that it may be more (or less) complicated than you thought.

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