Why do things get complicated

Strategies: Why everything is getting more and more complicated

When people want to improve things, they prefer to add things - even if removing components of the system would be more effective. In fact, many people don't even see the latter option, reports a working group headed by Leidy Klotz from the University of Virginia in the journal Nature. The team came to this conclusion on the basis of eight experiments in which the test subjects were asked to improve a set-up by adding or removing components. The superstructures were designed in such a way that removing them was cheaper in one way or another - either because additional parts cost money that was deducted from the reward for the task completed, or because adding was the much more complex solution. Nevertheless, the "additive" suggestions predominated in all test setups.

However, there was no conscious decision behind this, reports Klotz's team - apparently the test subjects simply overlooked the "subtractive" suggestions. Because if the working group presented the experimental setups in such a way that taking things away was explicitly or implicitly an option, a significantly larger proportion used this variant in all experiments. Why this is so is still open; likewise, whether this tendency is global or only applies to the countries of origin of the persons examined - the USA, Japan and Germany.

This article is featured in Spectrum - The Week, 15/2021

In any case, the team assumes that this one-sided way of problem-solving has on the one hand proven itself - on the other hand, it does a lot to make our everyday life more and more complex. "It is quite possible that the strategy of falling back on an additive search will help your users in everyday life," writes the team in the publication. The tendency to overlook subtractive solutions, however, presumably contributes to a number of negative trends. This included increasingly tight schedules and growing bureaucracy in companies and authorities.