Matt Stockton

mattstockton@gmail.com
The Complexity Versus Value Trap

There is not a linear relationship between the complexity of a product’s features and the product’s value to an end user. The graph of complexity versus value often looks like this:

However, complexity in products is ubiquitous. Think about the products you use everyday — how many features, buttons, modes, and dials do they have which you never use or have no idea what they do? (I write this as I stare at a ‘checkmark’ button on my desk phone. I have never pressed it, nor do I know what it does).

That begs the question: Why do we build products whose complexity lies well past the inflection point of value on the graph above, when value is already decaying?

Here are my thoughts:

We build products with complexity, yet often times we just want simplicity. Why do we really just want simple things? Why do complex things really have less value?

I am not immune to the problems listed above. At my core, I am a builder. I feel satisfied when I build something, irrespective of the customer need for it. Unfortunately, if you build something and you ignore customer need, you have a side project, not a company or business. You need to actively avoid these behaviors. You need to con yourself into building simple things that solve specific customer problems. So how can you do it?

Here are a few simple ways to con yourself:

We never set out to build overly complex things, but we often end up with them. There is no complexity switch that gets flipped from off to on, it is a continuous process whose obviousness is only visible at the end. You have to take a conscious effort to avoid it all along the way.