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Lesson 1: Complexity kills - so kill complexity!

If you were to guess the number of translators all the EU's institutions currently employ in order to translate into and from any of their (currently) 23 official languages, my guess is that your estimate would come out an order of magnitude too low. (You'll find the actual number at the very end of this article - I like to keep my readers on the edge of their seats.)

Picture: Veronica Fragoso Flores
Gadget Guy

Since linguistic diversity appears to be rather high on the EU Parliament's agenda, its policy of "controlled full multilingualism" (I bet they needed weeks to hammer out that particular policy's name) ensures that translations into and from any of its 23 official languages have to be provided to each and every member of parliament. Every other European institution is - by law - allowed to chose its own language arrangements. And the European Commission conducts its internal business in three languages. Ah yes, the European Commission. How many members at the moment? 27 plus one president. If I asked you to name all 27 areas of expertise, would you succeed? And guess how "mutually exclusive" those areas are ... yes, there appears to be quite a bit of overlap. All this may contribute to the fact that EU decision processes are not known to be amongst the speediest on the planet.

While I was still working as a management consultant, there was a time when I had to keep three calendars up-to-date. There was my official work calendar in Outlook which kind of synced to my mobile phone. Then there was my non-work calendar I carried around on my Palm Pilot. On top of this, I had a little notebook into which I scribbled any new appointments whenever I didn't have my electronic gadgets with me. You may begin to guess the amount of time and attention I had to invest to keep those calendars synchronised.

And it doesn't end there. Some people have three daily newspapers, five monthly magazine subscriptions, two mobile phones plus five other phone numbers, three email accounts, four bank accounts, their TVs offer entertainment on forty digital channels, and they carry 1000 songs in their pocket - plus an additional 200 on their phone. Which paper to read first? How to deal with two simultaneously ringing phones? The day ends and still dozens of emails unread?

We are surrounded by complexity, however, a lot of it is self-made. We don't want to miss anything, but by increasing the sources and amount of information we subject ourselves to, we actually end up getting lost in complexity. And the downsides of complexity are substantial: we waste time (instead of "saving" time) searching for stuff, making decisions, we get confused, overloaded, and important details get lost in the rubble.

The solution is rather simple: Less truly is more. Reduce. Shrink. Simplify. Or for a start, try not reading that fourth paper, switch off that third phone for a while - and see how you're doing. Go through the contents of your desk, your cupboard, your hard disk and throw or stash away anything you haven't touched in, say, a year. And don't get that new electronic gadget unless it lets you throw away two old ones.

And it seems the EU too is beginning to move towards reducing complexity in some areas. No, I am not talking about the "Action Programme for Reducing Administrative Burdens in the EU" (think "lunatics" and "asylum"). Good examples are the results of the Schengen treaty and the Euro. Just think back a few years when a trip from Germany through the Netherlands, Belgium and France included lengthy border controls and lugging around all sorts of coins. Gone for good. Now we can spend more time on our travels with the things we truly enjoy - like trying to translate a French menu.

Now, those translators. Two thousand five hundred.

Have a nice day!

Recommended books:

30 Days to a Simpler Life (C. Cox, C. Evatt)

Simplicity (E. De Bono)

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living (G. R. McClain, E. Adamson)

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