The Power of Simple

February 23, 2007

I think I was also surprised by the success of something so simple. That's a mantra for many people in the technology world - simplicity. But what we built wasn't that amazing. It was the idea of putting a couple of things together and being able to establish a lead by doing something really, really simple. How far you can get on a simple idea is amazing. I have a tendency to add more and more - the ideas always get too big to implement before they even get off the ground. Simplicity is powerful.

Evan Williams, Cofounder, Blogger.com in Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days

Evan Williams didn't set out to build Blogger.com - the original product idea for the company he cofounded was an advanced web-based project management tool. Blogger was created on the side as a way for Evan and his cofounder to update their own weblog. The system was eventually made available to the public. Even as the use of this new blogging service took off, Evan remained reluctant to ditch the original project management tool idea.

Like all disruptive innovations, the collection of scripts that would become Blogger didn't represent any great technological leap. Rather, the software made it an order of magnitude more convenient to do something that people had already been doing for some time.

Whether they're aware of it or not, most people are wired to reject simple ideas by default, regardless of their merit. After all, difficult problems call for complex solutions. And simple ideas definitely aren't sexy. Fields that have experienced prolonged periods of stagnation are especially vulnerable to this mode of thinking.

Cheminformatics is poised to experience a similar phenomenon as old technologies are put to use in new ways to solve longstanding problems. Some of these solutions will seem absurdly simple - even trivial. Watch them closely.