(Apologies in advance for the slightly techie content – really just words like ‘WordPress’ and ‘plugins’ – but if you’re already finding the example too complicated, you can jump straight to the point of the article)

Recently some bits of my website just stopped working. Unfortunately, quite important bits, like the signup button for my mailing list, the payment button for the Practical Appreciative Inquiry course, and the navigation menu and search on the mobile version of the site.

It turned out that a plugin was to blame (yes, it’s a WordPress site, like nearly everyone else’s). The plugin had been updated a few weeks back, and since then it had clashed with other plugins that I was using for the buttons and menus and stopping them from working.

Now my website isn’t that fancy. It just lets me write blog articles and accept payments for courses. But even to allow it to do that, there were a number of components from multiple suppliers all working nicely together (until they didn’t): the basic website software from WordPress, the payment system from Stripe, the email management system from Birdsend, plus a host of different plugins.

When I looked through my plugins to find the source of the problem, I found that some of them hadn’t been updated for years so probably weren’t compatible with the latest version of WordPress, plus I had way more plugins than I needed; I even had two security plugins, both doing the same job, and two different plugins for customer reviews – one of which was the source of the problem.

You’ll have guessed that I’ve now got rid of the offending plugin, and the problems have disappeared. But I’m not stopping there – the duplicates have gone, and eventually I’ll switch the ‘theme’ that I paid for several years ago (back then you needed a paid-for theme to let you customise the look and feel of your website) for a free one from WordPress.

The latest free WordPress themes are flexible enough that I can also get rid of the ‘no coding required’ plugin that I got to do landing pages, and which was clashing with another plugin I had to do payment buttons.

Not a Computer Geek Post

Why am I telling you all this? (apart from to give me another reason to apologise to anyone who’s tried to sign up for my newsletter or book my Practical Appreciative Inquiry course recently (everything’s working again now so you can go ahead and book!)

It’s just to make the point that the more things you have going on, the more opportunity there is for things to go wrong.

This is true at the level of society: the more complicated tax codes become, the more likely there are to be loopholes that are too obscure for ordinary individuals to know about, but oligarchs and multinational corporations can employ specialist accountants to find them. ‘Just-in-time’ global supply chains, bringing together components from multiple sources across the world, are efficient and profitable – until there’s an unforeseen disruption like Brexit or the invasion of Ukraine that leads to shortages and rocketing prices.

It’s also true at work: of course some regulations are needed for accountability, but the more paperwork you have to do, the less time you have to do your actual work, and when it gets to the point that there’s too much to handle, then ‘ethical fading‘ is almost inevitable and bad things start to happen.

The same thing happens in our personal lives: the more possessions we have, the more complicated and stressful our lives become. That flashy car that you’ve always wanted needs to be kept spotless, with higher insurance premiums than you were paying before, plus if you don’t have secure parking you’re always going to be worried about it being stolen or scratched. That amazing big house you’ve always aspired to – you’ll need to employ someone to clean it. That top-of-the-range bike, or windsurfer, or guitar – will you be too worried about dinging it to actually take it out and use it?

So it’s as Einstein is reputed to have said: “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” (he didn’t actually say those words, but apparently he did say something to the same effect).

Practical Steps You Can Take

  • Where in your life are you not succeeding as much as you’d like? What you could you subtract or simplify to make things easier?
  • What do you spend significant amounts of time on that you don’t enjoy? How necessary is each component? What could you stop doing, without significant loss?
  • When you’re putting together a new project or a new team – what’s the simplest design that will get the job done? How can you build in resilience, so that if conditions change the system will still keep working?
How Keeping Things Simple Avoids Problems

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