The Most Complex Problems Often Have The Simplest Solutions

A complexity of a problem doesn’t dictate the complexity of its solution – understanding it and looking at it the right way can show you a simple solution.

2 years ago

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A complexity of a problem doesn’t dictate the complexity of its solution – understanding it and looking at it the right way can show you a simple solution.

Think simple’ as my old master used to say – meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles.     -Frank Lloyd Wright

Perception can be perplexing. The more difficult a problem seems, the more difficult the solution seems to solve. But a problem’s complexity level doesn’t adjacently increase or decrease the solution’s.

This is a common error in problem solving.

If the answer to a problem is “1,000,000”, there are an infinite amount of ways to get to that answer:

791 x 6,420 ÷ 70 x 13.5 + 20,629 = 1,000,000

3,976 + 9,827 x 95 + 62,459 = 1,000,000


2 x 500,000 = 1,000,000

1 + 999,999 = 1,000,000

Regardless of how complex one solution may be over the simplest, if done right, yields the same results.

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.     -Paul Anderson

The size or scale of the problem is irrelevant, the simplest path to the solution can always be found. You just have to think of it as puzzle or math problem and figure out an effective equation.

A million is a big number and solving it can be complex or simple. The same methodology is applicable to any other problem, on paper and in practice.

For example, during an OP:

We needed a photograph of the face of a driver only known by his vehicle. We chose a small bridge in a rural village where we knew he would be driving through to get these photos. But he had to get out of the vehicle or roll his blacked out windows down.

Whatever our measures, it had to look natural and raise zero suspicion to the subject. The working plan was to use explosives to demolish a quarter of the bridge to make it precisely look like the aging bridge finally collapsed.

In hopes that the subject will arrive at the site, get out of the vehicle and take a look while we use a high powered scope to get the photos.

The procurement and transport of the necessary equipment, labor, tight timetable and overall cost was prohibitive and extremely complicated but possible, despite the risks. But then I saw something…

I saw the simplest solution. A solution that would cost essentially nothing in time, money and risk. Most of all, the possibility of success was much higher than the very costly and complex solution.

Truss Bridge ///

The road immediately bends a 90 degree turn at the other end of the bridge. It bends because there’s a steep and sudden hill. The solution I saw was a steel safety net that’s been catching falling rocks and boulders for years so it can’t reach the road.

So, instead of blowing up a bridge, we just released a few bolts which then scattered the debris all over the road which effectively shut down the bridge.

Success. The end result was the same but without the mess, cost, risk and needless complexities.

Don’t make the mistake in thinking a complex problem has to have an equally complex solution.

The more you understand something the more simple or decipherable it becomes. Look at the problem at different angles, literally and figuratively.

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.     -Hans Hofmann

If all else fails, I like to break down or compartmentalize a problem into smaller elements, like a link in a chain.

Because a problem is like a chain, and as the saying goes “a chain is only as strong as the weakest link”, with the weakest link being the most simple solution.

This means that a complex problem can be solved by any number of simple ways, if you just look.



Published 2 years ago