Irrational Complexity

I just got back from the gym, and tonight I saw what I see every time I go for a workout. A very out of shape person doing some kind of ridiculously complex exercise for a particular body part. Which any experienced trainer will know is clearly a waste of time.

The reality of weight training is that the entire body can be trained incredibly well with 5 simple exercises:

Bench press

Chin ups


Shoulder press


Everything else really is only for the hardcore and professional sports people. Problem is this truth doesn’t sell books, personal training sessions or gym memberships at locations which look like a NASA astronaut training facility. Success in gym programs is more about eating well and doing simple exercises which well executed with good frequency.

There is actually an important human psychology associated with such behaviour in the gym. We think there is some kind of secret formula. That success is associated with a complex algorithm which we must try and find, unlock and use. That success in the gym is rare because it is difficult to know how to do it.  That when we find these special trick techniques, our success will come much quicker. That we’ll be transformed overnight.

As humans in the 21st century we have a preference for irrational complexity. We know the truth, but we’d rather pretend it isn’t so. We’ve been so shaped by the media and a lack of hands on experience that we often believe success is hidden behind secret walls. And so we look for get fit quick schemes (Get rich quick scheme anyone?) rather than a get fit slow routine, which requires a consistent diet and a lot of sweat.

It’s pretty much the same in startup land. There aren’t great deal of tricks out there either. The formula is hard work, a lot of sweat, serving customers well and using the age old business maxims which were written about by Adam Smith over 200 years ago.


1 Comment Irrational Complexity

  1. Xavier Shay

    Amen. The same can be said for what to eat, which we’ve known about for centuries. The truth doesn’t sell. (Michael Pollen’s summary is still the best I think: Real food, mostly plants, not too much)

Leave a Reply