Building with Simplicity
Simplicity carries a poor connotation. If someone is described as simple minded or a simpleton, they’re considered less intelligent than the rest of us, maybe even stupid. In our work, the term is tossed around in belittling vehicles such as, “this is a simple task, how did I mess this up?”, or “this is a simple project, let’s have so and so do the majority of the work”. Students especially might look down upon ideas they consider simple and shun them for the more complex.
I remember a few separate lessons in college where my trumpet professor presented me with pieces of music that might be suitable for performance at a jury or recital. After a light play through, I generally shunned the simple ones, as though they weren’t a challenge for my increasingly complex skills - I thought I needed that challenge. This gravitational pull towards complexity manifested itself in more than what I wanted to play, but also in the music I wrote, listened to, the books I read, and the ideas I internalized.
It took me awhile, but I've had a recent change of heart. Sparked by a reading of Effortless Mastery by jazz pianist Kenny Werner, I’ve committed to rethinking my relationship with simplicity. Perhaps simplicity, though generally shirked as a virtue and disposition towards life, is essential in reaching our goals and should be embraced and practiced with open arms.
Let's dive in.
The problem with our current attitudes towards simplicity and complexity lie not in the concepts themselves, but how we as monkey minded humans relate to them. For example, musicians in the academy generally see the ability to understand, compose, and perform complex music as a status symbol and something desirable to be worked towards. Usually, the more complex a piece of music is the more difficult it is to play. It's reasonable then to assume that if one can perform this type of music then they must be more skilled than those who play simple pieces.
Of course the desire for complexity and the challenge it presents can be seen as a type of mountain, something to test ones abilities. However, the darker side of this pursuit shows through when our egos, the part of us that doesn’t like being the one not performing complicated music, pushes us to tackle an idea, piece, or composition that is exponentially beyond our abilities. If the pursuit for complexity were genuine, we would let the music and our skills bloom naturally.
Unfortunately, we don't like to take the time to let things 'bloom naturally'. Our desire to be good and perhaps thought of as good by others, fuels an impatience that leads many down a frustrating path of stunted growth.
Let’s explore this process a bit deeper with some state of the art graphics.
Imagine you’re on one side a canyon and you wish to reach the other side:
Our attempts to overcome complex ideas and projects, such as a musician playing a difficult piece, might look something like a person trying to clear a canyon in a single jump:
We all know jumping across a canyon in one jump is impossible. Naturally, we climb back up in order to jump again:
The crazy thing is that even though our initial jumps didn't work, we want to make to the other side so badly we keep jumping and climbing! Jumping is fast and gives us the impression of progress. In reality the only thing we end up getting better at is jumping, falling, and climbing.
Instead of jumping, what if we took the time to build a bridge?
We don't like building bridges in our skills, knowledge, and overall understanding because it takes longer. Our egos don't like taking things one step at a time. We want to be good right now, so it's easier to think we are working hard and improving by taking heroic leaps, hitting the ground, and climbing back up.
However, through the process of building bridges one simple and manageable step at a time, we can cross our canyons each and every time.
Now imagine that you have successfully crossed your first canyon and come to a larger, more daunting project.
In a case where the canyon is further away and project is more complex, taking heroic leap after leap is even more implausible than trying to jump across our previous canyon. Even though we may have gotten better at jumping, it is still not enough to overcome this bigger challenge.
Our ability to build bridges is then what will determine how effectively we can traverse this new canyon. If we did not take the time on the previous challenge to learn how to connect where we are with where we want to go, this current canyon will create only further exhaustion and frustration. The most effective solution is not the one takes the least amount of time (jumping), but that one which ensures we reach the other side.
It is acts of concentrated simplicity, like building a single step, that allow us to traverse canyons of increasing distance/complexity.
Speaking from personal experience, there are 2 major pitfalls in 'bridge building'. The one I struggle with the most is reaching a certain point, halfway for example, and feeling content with my progress. I feel that since I am further along than I was before, I have reached a certain goal. When things are going well it's difficult to feel like you need build more steps.
This pitfall is common at the gym. How times have you seen yourself or people you know go to the gym for a few weeks, experience some progress, and then go back to their regular lifestyle? This happens because there was no real goal to begin with - it just so happens the progress was enough to satiate their egos, to make them feel like something was accomplished.
The other pitfall happens when we have been diligently working on our bridge and the end is in sight. Excited by the prospect of finishing a project, we forget the rest of our steps and make a leap towards the other side. If we are close enough we can land on the other side safely, but the issue remains that we did not complete our bridge. If we let our desire for completion get in the way of our progress, not only do we shortchange all of our previous work, but we also never reap the rewards of a bridge well built.
Keep an eye for my next post about identifying those canyons you wish to cross in your projects or life and how to get to the other side by chaining simple step after stpe. Cheers!
Keep in touch with me by leaving a comment below, or messaging me at Ryangarmoemusic@gmail.com or on Facebook! Happy reading!