The Subtle Genius of Simplicity


“Complex is competent, simple is genius” - Binny Gill

In the first entry of this blog series, I laid the groundwork by diving into the complexities that are all too common in enterprise networking, underscoring the pressing need for simplicity. Then, in my second post, I highlighted the multiple costs that come with these complexities, focusing on both the financial toll and the burden on our human resources. In the third post, I summarized the sources of complexity that comprise this technology labyrinth in which we are caught. Now, let’s explore an alternative approach focused on deliberate simplicity.

What exactly does it mean to simplify? If we defined complexity as the presence of unnecessary friction, then simplicity  can be understood as the elimination or absence of that friction. It’s a deliberate choice over time, to push back against the tendency for systems to become complicated. Or put another way, the pursing simplicity is essentially  engaging in strategic combat against entropy.

Just as complexity conveys certain values, simplicity does as well. Simplicity signifies the ease of utilization, clarity of understanding, and ease of building and scaling. When something is easy to understand, it becomes simpler to repair. When complexity is removed, so is waste. When something is easy to adapt, flexibility is the result. 

Lessons from the Consumer World

I’m dating myself a bit, but when I started my career, the technology we had in the office was significantly more powerful and advanced than anything I could afford at home. Cutting-edge hardware and software were once exclusive to the corporate world, typically taking years to gradually make their ways into the hands of consumers. When I first observed an executive with a mobile phone or a laptop, I surmised they must be important to justify that extravagance.

The modern era has brought with it changes that were once barely conceivable. Technology designed for the consumer often outstrips the performance, offers more straightforward usability, enjoys wider dissemination, and delivers superior functionality than the technology housed within the typical corporate network.

If I want to try a new app, it’s a few taps away. Sharing data between applications and devices is so effortlessly convenient that I hardly even think about it. Consumer technology has provided greater value and empowerment to the average end-user than ever before. When combined with cloud technologies, this enables individual developers and small firms to rapidly innovate. They can also distribute their work globally, reacting in real time to evolving customer demands.

So, what happened in the corporate IT world? Why can’t I log into an app store and provision systems with a few clicks? Why isn’t sharing data and collaborating with teammates straightforward? Furthermore, why do larger companies respond sluggishly to market changes?

Complexity strikes again.

Let’s examine what’s successful in the consumer world and see if we can learn some lessons.

Let the Product do the Talking

As we examine the realm of consumer technology , we can examine a new approach known as Product Led Growth (PLG).  This business methodology places significant emphasis on the product itself to drive user acquisition, expansion, conversion, and retention.

Years ago, when I was responsible for researching and designing IT systems, a business methodology akin to PLG is exactly what I desired: self-service, hands-on, and low friction. Instead of spending precious time on sales and marketing (my apologies and marketing colleagues, but engineers have a passion for engineering), I would rather focus on what suits my needs. When the time comes to make a purchase, I can do so directly, avoiding a complex process.

This doesn’t just apply to adopting a new product. What about upgrades or adding new functionality? Rather than vendors taking me to lunch to upsell their new product or to encourage an upgrade to a more feature-rich license, why not offer that functionality directly in the interface?  Let me try it out, and upgrade on the spot.

As an enterprise vendor, this should be a clear objective. If you can concentrate your efforts on creating a product that “sells itself” and aligns with your customer’s needs, you won’t need to invest as much time and effort in the traditional and lengthy sales process. It's a victory for all parties involved. While the enterprise realm involves more complexities than the consumer world, here are undoubtedly valuable lessons to be learned and improvements to be made.

Collaboration as a Cornerstone

The consumer tech landscape is a testament to the power of collaboration. and many Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps have led the way. Consider the simplicity of reposting on social media, editing a Google Doc, or engaging in multiplayer gaming. The effortless interaction and collaboration not only enhance the user experience but can also benefit the business world. The resulting viral growth and network effects establish a positive feedback loop, attracting more users and retaining their engagement over longer periods of time.

Why aren’t IT tools crafted with a similar approach? Imagine if we applied gamification to network and application performance. What if troubleshooting could be as collaborative as a role-playing game (RPG), seamlessly integrating new skills and allowing specialists share work together without encountering any friction?

Recognizing collaboration and multiuser interaction as bedrock principles of product design is a valuable lesson that how the potential to reshape the way we engage with enterprise technology.

Relentless Optimization

When you open a social media app, conduct a Google search, or perform a routine task such as booking a rideshare, it's important to recognize that every pixel and every microsecond of your experience has been tracked, aggregated, analyzed, and fine-tuned. Systems undergo continuous monitoring and measurement, and optimization at every available opportunity, all aimed at increasing customer retention, user satisfaction, and product performance. The streamlined deployment of cloud-based systems, coupled with modular code bases, has facilitated relentless optimization from start to finish.

What about in the Enterprise? We are inundated with data—why not harness its potential?

In today's IT landscape, the common practice involves designing and deploying systems, with interaction primarily occurring reactively when issues or failures occur. Deploying the same technology and fostering a culture of continuous optimization could enable us to reach higher levels of service, respond more swiftly to changes, and operate with greater efficiency. Incorporating machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) could propel us toward the realm of truly autonomous networks, capable of self-healing and self-optimizing. However, it all begins with leveraging the data.

Lessons from IT

While in recent years, the consumer world has raced ahead with an innovative approach to embrace the power of simplicity, there are also lessons to be learned from the more traditional IT world. Some of them are things we’ve known for a long time, but a gentle reminder can’t hurt.

The UNIX Philosophy

Indeed, let’s explore a book from 1978 to see illustrate just how long-standing these concepts are in the IT world. In the Bell Systems Technical Journal, Doug McIlroy documented the philosophy behind UNIX, and these powerful ideas led to a revolution in what was possible with computing. Summarized handily by Peter Salus, they state:

  1. Write programs that do one thing and do it well.
  2. Write programs to work together.
  3. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

These seemingly simple yet profound principles remain relevant today. Despite their relevance, we still have witnessed the consequences of embracing bloated, complex, and proprietary systems. So, the questions arise: how can we return to these principles and incorporate them into our approaches to designing, purchasing, and deploying enterprise solutions?

Modern Application Architecture

Indeed, these concepts have regained popularity in the software development world. It's likely you're familiar with terms like microservices and Functions as a Service (FaaS). These methodologies are modern descendants of the UNIX philosophy – enabling us to construct robust systems from modular, loosely-coupled components. Linked by open standards and coordinated orchestration, the most expansive software systems globally have transitioned from being monolithic to being assemblies of countless small, interoperable parts.

Combine these capabilities together with the automation possibilities of Infrastructure as Code (IaC), and you can revolutionize the entire stack, from the software right down to the silicon. Embedding knowledge directly into the system itself enables a structure where changes are precise, self-documenting, and consistently replicated.

How can you transform your technology stack by recomposing it into small, modular, self-contained systems that can be rearranged and repurposed as needed?

Fix Your Org Chart

In our examination of the origins of complexity, we touched on “Conway’s Law,” which suggests that systems and products will eventually resemble the structure of the organization that created them. This is usually understood as a negative – that corporate silos and org chart hierarchies will manifest in unpleasant ways, making life hard for end users, customers, and partners.

However, perhaps we can embrace this “law” and use it to our advantage, by inverting it. Suppose we proceed from the desired outcomes—customer value, user-friendliness, collaboration, growth, and so on—and shape our organizations to achieve these goals. By concentrating on what's important, rather than the confines of an organizational chart, we can integrate simplicity into our business structures at a fundamental level.


Having uncovered several avenues through which simplicity can exert its transformative power, our journey is far from over. In the forthcoming finale of this blog series, I will guide you through the entire IT product lifecycle—from the spark of ideation to the finality of retirement. Together, we'll discover the myriad benefits of combating complexity at every juncture, and how it can lead to more than just ease of use—it can lead to excellence in innovation and operation.

About the Author
Justin Hurst
Chief Technology Officer, APAC

Justin Hurst is the CTO, APAC for Extreme Networks, where he is responsible for guiding the technical vision for the Extreme platform in the APAC region.

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