Trying NOT to Live a Rube Goldberg Kind of Life

You may or may not know the name Rube Goldberg . . . but I’m sure you’ve seen his work.

Rube Goldberg's Self-Wiping Napkin Invention

He’s the comic artist who devised all of those crazy complex machines to perform simple operations. If you’ve ever played the game Mousetrap, that’s a Goldbergian sort of thing. If you remember Doc Brown’s method of feeding Einstein, that’s another example. The most recent example sweeping the interwebs has been OK Go’s music video in which the fantastic machine is timed to the song.

In other words, he is the guy who came up with the idea of making the simplest of tasks as complex as possible. Or at least he’s the one who drew the pictures of them. We humans had the process of over-complexity down pat many, many generations ago.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

The short answer is, “I have no idea.”

I’m among those who regularly make things far more complex than they need to be. For whatever reason, my penchant for doing this is strongest in dealing with my personal “stuff”. My goals. My desire to change some things about the reality in which I currently reside.

I know what I want to change. I may even know the best end result. Where I bugger things is the process of getting there from here. I seem to create invisible (or metaphorical … take your pick) Rube Goldberg machines for changing my life.

The problem is that they’re not nearly as funny as his machines were.

What to do about it.

I keep reminding myself of Occam’s razor. It’s my geeky love of physics coming out.

The basic idea of Occam’s razor is that the simplest explanation or method is likely the correct one. Although this is not accepted as de facto logic in the world of science, it is taken quite seriously.

If, in the development of theories surrounding some unknown phenomenon, two scientists have two wildly different explanations and one is simple, while the other is wildly complex, if all other things are equal, many (if not most) scientists will gravitate toward the simple explanation.


Because with additional complexity in a system or idea, the more room you have for screwing things up. You enter in the possibility of false outcomes that are a result of some subsection of the complex explanation, rather than the phenomenon itself.

How  to apply to life.

When faced with an overwhelming situation, just stop. One thing I’ve found in myself and have observed in countless others is that we tend to make things far more complex than necessary when we rush.

As Mark Twain (or Plutarch … pick your source) is rumored to written at the end of a letter to a friend, “I’m sorry to have written such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

Take the time to sit with the problem, sort through what’s going on, and discern potential solutions. As solutions float up into your consciousness, don’t necessarily take the first one that comes to mind. Find some others, then sort through them to find the cleanest solution and implement that one.

Yes, I know first hand how very hard this can be, but I’ve also made the mistake of trying to solve my problems with a Rube Goldberg machine often enough that I’m starting to learn a new way.

The Point.

Life is complex enough without us creating a 30-step process just to wipe our chin as we eat soup.

Give yourself a break. Make things easier by taking a few minutes to assess your options before diving into a solution that may actually make things worse than they were before you implemented your fix.

2 Responses to Trying NOT to Live a Rube Goldberg Kind of Life
  1. Lana
    April 2, 2010 | 09:41

    Great Post C!
    I think that we sometimes complicate things in order to “not” deal with them. I know that I do.
    I needed this today. Thank you


  2. christy
    April 5, 2010 | 04:38

    It makes me very happy to know that. :)

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