Simple Solutions to Simple Problems

If you’re a Windows user, do you ever use Notepad? If so, how often?

My guess is that you use it and that you use it frequently. At least I know that my partners and I do. Why though? We all have Google Docs access. We all have Open Office Writer installed on our computer. The answer lies in it’s simplicity. It opens super fast, doesn’t auto format any of my text, and saves tiny .txt files. I use it for quick to-do lists, to write SQL statements, and to type blog posts.

There are countless examples of this in the products we use and the businesses we buy from. Google works because it’s so simple. Type in a query and get relevant results. Pencil and paper work because they’re cheap, simple, and unrestricted. Twitter works because everyone can wrap their heads around 140 characters of text. More complex solutions often fail because they are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

But being someone who likes to be on the “cutting edge”, I’m guessing you sometimes make simple things complex. Am I right? A great example happened to me recently.

Over the past few years I’ve become somewhat of a tea aficionado. It started when I first quit my job and needed to get out of the house to keep my sanity from time to time. Coffee shops with free wi-fi became the obvious choice. Over the course of the past few years I’ve gone to every single place in the greater Albany area that offers wi-fi and food and/or drink. However, since I don’t drink coffee and I don’t really like to eat out often, I started drinking tea. At first it was just green tea, but then I expanded to all sorts of green, black, white, and herbal varieties. The numerous health benefits (assuming you don’t add anything to it, which I don’t), combined with it’s affordability got me started on becoming a daily tea drinker. One local coffee shop in particular has great organic loose tea – much better than the stuff you find in the grocery store.

But when I first started buying my own loose tea, there was the issue of how to steep it. I started with a simple old-school infuser that my girlfriend picked up at IKEA:

IKEA tea infuser

Then I moved on to an Adiago ingenuiTEA:

ingenuiTEA

And then a glass mug and infuser:

mug

Why so many different options? Each one kept having the same problem – it’s a total freaking pain in the ass to clean  after you’ve made your cup of tea. There’s really no way to get them totally clean without rinsing them under the sink and getting tea leaves everywhere.

The solution? I recently switched to using…get this, a tea bag. $3 for 100 of them. Does a great job steeping the tea. Easy clean up. Problem solved.  Talk about turning something simple into something complex!

teabag

11 comments on Simple Solutions to Simple Problems

  1. nethy says:

    Adam,
    I hate cliche’ so this pains me:

    Americans.

  2. nethy says:

    I owe you some context for that. Unfortunately, I can’t find the essay. I’ll have a look tonight.

  3. Oke says:

    Adam,

    I didn’t know you love tea. I love the shit, too! We could have had a couple of bowls while I was there. When it comes to brewing I use two devices: coffee pot (with tea bag in bowl) and a simple tea pot I got from my mother. Clean up is quick, but as you can see from the pictures I haven’t used in some time. I have this one of normal size and a larger one for home use. As soon as I’m done with the loose tea (like my green tea super bitter), I just empty the filled filter into the trash can and wash away.

    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2614/3883583687_0643d92bab.jpg

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I definitely do not prefer my green tea bitter 🙂

      That filter looks a lot more flexible than the ones I have. Almost like you can turn it inside out and empty it in the trash. All of mine sort of work, but ultimately I need to run them under water to get the last 25% out, which makes a mess in my sink and leads to me spending far too much time cleaning for such a simple task.

      I can’t believe that tea never came up when you were visiting! We have a little corner in the kitchen next to the stove with all of our devices and a set of cabinets where all of the loose tea is stored. It’s so damn affordable that I waaay over-buy for how much I drink. I drink 1-2 cups a day. I probably have enough to last me a few years.

      Btw, picked up this green tea kettle about a week ago. LOVE IT http://www.adagio.com/teaware/utiliTEA_kettle.html

  4. Tim says:

    There is a lot to be said about keeping it simple, complicating any task or project simply because you can is typically a poor business decision, unless of course there is a specific goal from the complication. I think many tech savvy entrepreneurs cripple themselves with technology just because they feel obligated to use it. Don’t get me wrong I am open minded when it comes to experimenting and trying different methods and concepts and I encourage thinking out of the box. At the same time it’s important not to delude yourself with these ideas, if they are not working for you or your business it’s important to move on quickly.

    The Irony is that I am a big proponent of a quote I heard in a dream of mine, literally. The context is irrelevant, but the quote was “life is not a race, there is no first reward for making it to the end first.” I took that as an indicator that I need to slow down and take time to appreciate and enjoy life, it was a large factor that led to the decision to sell my first business. At the same time I detest wasting resources, time and ambition. I realize the irony of an individual who claims to practice both of those principles, but the yin and yang actually can compliment each other nicely, if applied and understood. For example, I don’t want to compromise my personal goals in life for a business, and the means to that end are to be efficient and set real goals, create plans to reach those goals and execute. If new technology is going to help, brilliant, if new concepts or advanced theories are going to be utilized to reach that end, outstanding! However, I am not going to use trendy theories and concepts because it’s expected of successful entrepreneurs, unless it serves a specific purpose it’s creating an imbalance.

    This seems to be a huge crutch for sideline entrepreneurs, those who have self proclaimed “brilliant” ideas but are incapable of taking these ideas beyond the stage of a concept. They will read blogs, and obsess over those who “do” and instead of forging ahead and creating their own identity they will try to mimic others thinking it is the only path to success. As we have discussed in the past and you have mentioned in a previous blog post this couldn’t be further from the truth. Before I derail any further I will end it here in simple agreement that keeping it simple works more often then it doesn’t and can be pivotal in creating an entrepreneurial revolution.

  5. Neville says:

    I’ve been drinking my tea from a $14 tea/steeping cup I bought from Whole foods 2 years ago. Looks like:
    http://www.thegreenhead.com/imgs/tea-steeping-cup-porcelain-cup-lid-and-infuser-2.jpg

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Didn’t realize everyone was a tea drinker!

      That cup you have Nev looks like it’s almost the same as my mug pictured in the post. How do you clean it out once you’re done? I find myself reaching my hand inside to get the tea leaves out, at which point I get frustrated and rinse it…at which point I create a mess in my sink 🙂

  6. Travis says:

    I’m not a tea drinker, but your point about Notepad resonated with me. I guess this is the balance that the 37signals guys preach.

    I used to manage a software product that was designed to sit on top of various ERP systems (think SAP, Maximo, JDE, Mincom, etc) with the goal of making them easier to use. As an example, one of the above mentioned programs has/had 212 possible inputs on their create work order screen (hidden by dozens of tabs and popups). The reason is obvious, somewhere along the way a prospective client said “we will not buy this system from you unless you add the XYZ field”. So they did, and it got added to core functionality – yet less than 1% of the user base needs it. The systems basically become non-usable unless you are a power user.

    In the case of these ERP vendors, back before they were massive it was probably a daily conversation about making the sale vs. adding complexity to a program that was once simple. Making the sale seems to win…

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Great story Travis. I’m a huge fan of the way 37signals builds their software. Anytime I’m starting a new project I make it a requirement to go back and re-read Getting Real. It puts things in perspective and makes you focus on the real purpose of your software.

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