Ask the average person what the difference is between the words “simple” and “easy” and that person will likely look at you quizzically and then reply that there is NO difference between these two words…that they in fact mean the SAME thing.
Indeed, if one were to go by Merriam-Webster’s first definitions for both words (simple: “not hard to understand or do”; easy: “not hard to do; not difficult”), then one could make the case that they do actually mean the same thing.
I would argue, however, that “simple” and “easy” are NOT interchangeable words. To illustrate the difference between these two words I would offer the following example: Planking. This exercise is simplicity itself…you hold your body straight in a horizontal position while propped on your elbows and *voila* you’re “planking!” There are, of course, variations to this but that’s basically it! Simple, right? Well, let’s see you hold this position (without breaking form) for more than a two minute stretch of time! Doing so would be anything BUT “easy” for the average person. (Even most athletic types would find this challenging.)
So “simple” is more a statement about the degree of complexity of a thing rather than a statement about how difficult a thing is to do. When comparing a pair of business processes, for example: The first process has 15 steps while the second process has only 5 steps and yet both achieve the same outcomes. In this instance, the second process would be considered “simpler” (and possibly more “efficient” as well).
To complicate this example a bit further, however, those same 5 steps in the second process may actually NOT be “easier” than the 15 steps in the first process…simpler, yes…faster perhaps…but not necessarily easier. There are, obviously, an infinite number of other examples of this “simplicity/ease dichotomy” that I could offer but the real question is: “So what?” Put another way: “Why should I care about the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘hard’?”
Well, in a nutshell, I believe that it is this lack of recognition of this difference (or the underestimation of this difference) that separates the achievers from the non-achievers of the world.
You may disagree with the statement above but consider the following:
- Getting “healthy”
- Simple: Eat “right”, get lots of sleep, drink lots of water and exercise.
- But NOT easy: Doing all of the above consistently and frequently enough to actually affect positive health.
- Starting/running a small business
- Simple: Offer a valuable product/service, find paying customers for that product/service, collect payment from those customers, pay your bills/employees…rinse and repeat.
- But NOT easy: Doing ANY of the things above.
- Quit drinking, using, smoking, gambling, [***insert your “vice” of choice here***]
- Simple: Just stop drinking, using, smoking, gambling, etc.
- But NOT easy: In his bestselling book, “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”, Siddhartha Mukherjee describes (via cancer patient stories) the horrible toll that cancer takes on the human body but with due respect to Dr. Mukherjee I would argue that addiction not only robs a person of their health but their dignity as well.
The achievers of this world strive for simplicity in their goals but recognize that the execution of those goals will NOT be easy.
How many times had Tiger Woods swung a golf club before winning is first PGA event at the age of TWENTY in 1996? Answer: A whole s#!tload!
How times had Magnus Carlsen played chess (many times against himself) before becoming a Grandmaster at the age of THIRTEEN in 2004? Answer: See the “Tiger Woods” answer above!
I doubt that any of the talents mentioned above would have characterized their achievements as “easy”, though, their respective formulas for success were really quite “simple.” In fact, it would have been much easier for Tiger to vegetate on the couch watching TV with his Stanford dorm room buddies rather than what he actually did just about all the time, i.e., play golf. It would have been far easier for Magnus to “go play outside” with the rest of the kids his age instead of what he actually did: That is, play a TON of chess. It would have been easier for The Beatles to “pick up chicks”, spiral into drug/alcohol addiction and then fizzle out due to “lack of creativity” as 99% of all rock bands have done in history but – to their credit – they didn’t do all of that stuff until MUCH later in their careers!
Bottom line: When it comes to achievement, don’t confuse “simple” with “easy.”