You Don't Whack a Gnat with a Bat!

Every summer, the air vents in our office do something particularly strange...

They act as a superhighway for hoards of extremely tiny flies, which make up for their diminutive size by stretching the boundaries of annoying to a whole new level.

MUCH bigger than life Gnat Image: Wikipedia
They are gnats, and I found a picture of one on Wikipedia in order to see what one really looked like.  In reality, they are much like small specks that suddenly appear in your peripheral vision screaming "I'm about to fly up your nose!!"

I don't know about you, but I have trouble ignoring a kamikaze bug, no matter how small.

Dealing with these flying vermin typically involves one of two methods... the one handed scrunch (it works better if you are a trained Ninja), or the two handed clap of death. (if you don't kill them, at least they're now deaf).  To an observer on the other side of the room, either of these methods make you look like someone who has lost their collective marbles... waving your hands wildly in the air and clapping at nothing.

If there are enough gnats, then one can be tempted to use something more lethal than bare hands... like a baseball bat.  I would personally not recommend it.  Not only would the gnats get off undamaged (unlike the furniture in your office), the person watching from across the room would likely call the authorities.

A baseball bat you see, is an overly complex and highly inefficient solution to the problem.

Much like much of the technology solutions IT departments tend to implement.

In the early 20th century, Rube Goldberg  took his passion for cartooning and combined it with his background in engineering and created drawings of overly complex machines designed to do simple tasks.  Check out www.rubegoldberg.com for his bio and some examples

Over the years, the spirit of Mr. Goldberg has been channelled into various iterations of crazy machines... the most recent has been OK Go's recent Superbowl commercial for Chevy.

While highly entertaining, Rube Goldberg should not be our mentor for IT solutions.

Sometimes, it is not worth it to automate a process.  Will the value of the time saved be greater than the cost and effort of creating an automated program?

I believe we (IT departments) discredit ourselves and don't do our customers any favours when we spend lots of time and effort on complex solutions to simple problems.

We often thrive on developing complex solutions because, let's face it, it makes us feel smart.

But your organization didn't hire you just because you are smart. They hired you to solve problems - to use technology to create differentiation, streamline processes, and make it possible to do things your organization could never hope to achieve before.

In short, we need to be delivering simple solutions to complex problems... those that are elegant in their simplicity.

Most often the place to start is at the end... that is with defining what the ultimate user experience would look like, feel like, be like.

Rather than just automating the current process, do we ever stop and ask the basic questions such as "What are we trying to accomplish?  Do we really need to do this?"

Sometimes there are processes so embedded in an organization's operation that have been there so long, nobody is quite sure why they are done.  All they know is "That's the way we've always done it!"

Your new role in IT is to be the catalyst for the right kind of change.

Perhaps this should be our new mission statement "Providing elegantly simple solutions to complex problems."

For the record, Google tells me that there is a much better way than a baseball bat to deal with indoor gnats. (Check out this site).

Most of them fall into the extremely simple category, almost elegant in their simplicity.

What's the most elegantly simple solution to a complex problem your team has delivered?


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