A view from Dave Trott: Simple is harder than complicated
A view from Dave Trott

Simple is harder than complicated

1903 was the year of the first aeroplane flight.

Just over ten years later, aeroplanes were flying in a war.

They were still made of wood and canvas, just like kites.

But now men had to find ways to kill each other.

So they took pistols and rifles up with them.

As they flew alongside, they would shoot at each other.

Obviously, it wasn’t very successful.

So they tried more complicated ways to solve the problem.

They fitted machine guns on swivels.

This meant two men in a plane: one to fly the plane, one to aim the gun at the enemy.

The weight of another man made the plane slower and clumsier.

And it wasn’t very successful: the plane would be flying one way and the gun firing another.  

And the man on the gun would have to be careful not to shoot his own plane: the wings or the tail, or the pilot. 

It became more and more complicated and aerial warfare was slow and clumsy.

Then, in August 1915, a terrifying thing happened.

Suddenly, Germany had a completely new type of aeroplane that flew straight at the enemy, spitting bullets out directly in front of it.

It didn’t have to fly slowly alongside with someone trying to shoot.

Whatever manoeuvre another plane tried to get away, this plane just followed, shooting bullets straight into it.

British and French pilots were being killed by the dozen.

There was no defence against this new weapon.

It became known as "The Fokker Scourge".

Because a Dutchman, Anthony Fokker, had found a way for machine guns to shoot through the propeller blades without hitting them.

Something that everyone thought was impossible.

Fokker had machine guns fixed pointing straight ahead so, wherever the plane pointed, the pilot simply fired.

Because now the whole plane was the gun. 

What Fokker had done was to simplify everything by getting upstream of the problem.

No-one else thought it was possible to have the guns pointing forward because the bullets would hit the propeller blades.

So they found complicated alternatives.

But Fokker didn’t think like everyone else.

He developed a series of cams connected to the engine.

So that the engine itself fired the gun when there was a gap between the blades.

Fokker reversed the problem and his planes shot everything out of the sky.

Eventually, the French and British learned to copy Fokker’s thinking.

And for the past 100 years, every fighter plane has used Fokker’s principal: the guns fixed, pointing forward.

While everyone else was getting more and more complicated, Fokker did the opposite.

He got creative, he got upstream of the problem.

He didn’t try to solve the same problem, he changed it to a different problem.

And all the complicated solutions immediately became redundant.

Stupid people think complicated is clever.

But smart people know simple is clever.

Because you have to go beyond complicated to get to simple.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.