Picture a Swiss Army knife resplendent with multi-purpose, and I challenge you not to think of the word —prepared

From the brutality of it’s form to the savagery of it’s function — you could go into the wilderness right now, it suggests, with no more than this small piece of plastic and steel, and survive. It’s a tool that proudly proclaims preparation for whatever life hurls at you… Unless, like me, you tote the Butler’s model — which prepares one for very little except an impromptu picnic in a meadow. 

Yes, I’ve always viewed preparation as the promise that no pinot remains impenetrable when I need to slake a vicious thirst. I’ve certainly never fully appreciated the Swiss Army knife’s compact complexity until a recent four day splitboarding incursion into the New Zealand backcountry. Plastered to the top of a cliff by a blizzard, about to drop off what appeared to be the edge of the world, I discovered that my bindings had rattled themselves free from my board. After a solid hit of adrenalin and a lengthy self-flagellistic soliloquy for forgetting a screwdriver, anxiety turned to relief with the realisation I’d dropped a pocket knife into my pack to cleave our midday salami. This may well have been the first time I’d used this rugged implement for any purpose other than slicing cheese or smallgoods, and no words can adequately convey my feels as I coaxed that tiny screwdriver from its cozy plastic burrow to tighten the screws. 

In that moment, I finally appreciated my Swiss Army knife for what it actually is — a ridiculous 87 tools with 141 unique functions somehow squeezed into a rectangle small enough to slip snug into a pocket. Tiny enough to not think twice about taking; enough functions to make it worth taking. The very embodiment of preparation. Complex function hidden behind a simple interface through clever design.

From iPhones to navigating the Metro, from Google searches to our brains: we constantly underestimate the sheer complexity of things when they’re well designed. It’s easy to assume that everything that seems simple is simple — especially because the successful resolution of complexity renders itself invisible. 

Dealing with complexity is a topic we’ve seen escalate in importance within organisations as business becomes increasingly intricate. A hefty chunk of the work we do is helping clever folk like you take complex ideas, messages, processes, policies and strategies, and developing them into more engaging experiences and communication. It’s a process that involves diving headlong and intrepid into complexity: a search for sense and simplicity — and that’s where things get interesting. 

By definition: simplicity is the opposite of complexity, but let’s begin by harpooning the belief that it’s either one or the other. Nor should simplicity be seen as merely an exercise in subtraction. These notions are far too simplistic.

The world is complex. Humans are complex. Life is complex. Work is complex. We deal with inherent complexity daily. It’s naive to think we should — or can — solve complexity just by eliminating details. That isn’t simplicity — that’s just dumbing things down. Removing detail is robbing the richness that makes things interesting; stripping the features that makes things useful.

Heck, simplifying complexity isn’t even the real issue we should be solving. 

No, our objective should be engagement and impact — making a difference. And the real challenge to making things engaging; enjoyable; influential; inspiring; impactful; informative; clear; isn’t actually complexity… 

It’s confusion. 

Fortunately, complexity doesn’t need to be confusing. 

Complexity can certainly be engaging. 

So — let’s make the complicated easy to understand. Make things understandable and they’ll seem simple. Make things seem simple, and we remove one of the biggest barriers to engagement. 

How do we do it?