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Making things Complicated: Jardin's Principle

Will this name ever stick?

Buried in an obscure corner of my website, in the section called "Etc.", is an article I wrote for the Financial Times management page in January 1997. It's entitled Jardin's Principle, a name that I gave to a phenomenon that seems to crop up all the time.

So what is Jardin's Principle?

In a nutshell, it's an observation that people seem naturally drawn to make things complicated - except for the really wise, who are able to reduce everything to a profound simplicity. (But read the full article to discover all of the nuances.)

And why did I call it Jardin's Principle? I felt this phenomenon needed a name (like Parkinson's Law and Occam's Razor), but it felt egotistical to put my name to it, especially as I can't be the only person who has observed it, so I chose the French word for garden in homage to the Peter Seller's film Being There, about a simple gardener who becomes US President.

A small but loyal cluster of my friends still remember and refer to Jardin's Principle but apart from that, the name has largely vanished, as a Google search will confirm. Yet every so often I come across examples of people describing the phenomenon.

Here is a quote from Steve Jobs, which is still used all over the place, especially in business books. He's describing Jardin's Principle precisely:

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don't really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it's really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That's sort of the middle, and that's where most people stop. But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem - and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works.

When the respected cricket journalist Peter Roebuck died three years ago, his obituaries paid tribute to his wisdom, and in particular to this quote of his:

A player goes through three stages - natural, complicated, simple - not many reach that last stage but the journey cannot be avoided. Failure is the problem.

It's Jardin again!

One day maybe somebody - probably not me - will write a book about Jardin's Principle, and its name will finally stick. Or maybe they'll write the book and call it Jobs' Principle, in which case poor Jardin will be forgotten forever.