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The Evolving Virtue of Simplicity
Is Enough Really Enough?
On the last episode of Central Division, Michael took me to task for my ancient and beloved coffee maker. Apparently, coffee sitting in a glass pot upsets him. “You must like burnt coffee,” he said dismissively. Indeed I’m partial to the Dieter Rams-designed Braun coffee maker just like the one my parents used when I was growing up (long before I knew who Dieter Rams was). Theirs was white. Mine is black. It felt like the right combination of ease and design. It still does.
But I began thinking about how we decide something is good enough just because we’re used to it. Or when we decide to get a better coffee maker or watch or camera and realize just how big the improvement can be. Some people thrive on that improvement. They read reviews, they study, they know what’s what and appreciate those fine distinctions. They are serial upgraders.
These people tell you about pixels or some other metric that makes no sense to the people who hold the old line. These people try new gin. They tell you about botanicals. Other people don’t want to reinvent gin. Bombay Sapphire is better than good enough, so why change? This friction about discovery vs. being set in your ways fascinates me. I like having a friend like Michael who I trust—when he tells me something is good I listen. Sometimes I get the new, recommended speaker, other times I keep the old television.
This is why going to Japan is so wonderful. It’s a culture built on design and evolution. The discreet hidden jacket hook on a bullet train is not an afterthought. Or the perfect ice cube. Or the fact that you can buy a left-handed spatula—I realized, as a left-hander that I may have been stirring the wrong way my entire life!
In Japan there are no afterthoughts. Every thing has been considered. That can be exhilarating; it can be exhausting. I don’t want to spend too much time doing certain things. Maybe I just haven’t experienced perfect coffee. Or that I don’t have the energy to grind beans and perform the perfect pour-over upon rising. And please don’t tell me about anything that requires programming or has a digital anything on it. I just want something with one button. One.
If you think I’m crazy recall that Steve Jobs said that he wanted the iPod to just have one button. That doesn’t mean I’m right. Just that sometimes simplicity is a virtue. Other times things can be improved upon that you didn’t know could be. Bombas socks are better than any socks you’ve ever worn—there’s not seam across your toes. It’s incredible. The humble sock, which you never thought much about, was improved.
Years ago I met the friend of a friend for a drink. He was a former finance type who had left the game and bicycled around Europe or Thailand or somewhere. He was about to launch a new ketchup company that was supposed to be more healthy. I was skeptical, though I didn’t tell him that. Heinz ketchup is one of the most iconic, diabolically perfect products humans have ever engineered. Even the white bottle cap is recognizable. He launched the company and called it Sir Kensington’s. You probably know it since it’s a runaway worldwide success. He sensed that people wanted something better even if they didn’t realize it. And he was right. Shows what I know.