Jon Jennings keeps his green committee up to date by attaching photos to emails. Shannon Wheeler cuts a circle out of an old stop sign to prevent the ghosting of paint on turf. Sean Sullivan uses a discarded oven and an inexpensive powder-coating gun to refurbish ball washers.
Simple can rule in the complex lives of golf course superintendents.
That was among my thoughts as I sat listening to a series of speakers during a recent “TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design): Ideas Worth Spreading” lecture series. One by one, I heard about the process to convert biomass to plastic; a mechanism to fund college education; new features in Uber transportation; the mapping of education; and the magical power of cells. TED talks are becoming the most powerful way to share information because they’re delivered in a conversational, storytelling format that’s easy to follow.
I was most looking forward to the discussion of cells, not so much because of the subject, but because a childhood friend was delivering the presentation. Lisa Stehno-Bittel, Ph.D., was two years ahead of me in school. Since embarking on a career in medicine, she’s been published dozens of times, managed a department at a major university medical center and formed one of the top 50 startups in the world.
I knew Lisa was smart, but I didn’t remember her as a science nerd. The moderator gave a lengthy introduction of her work, using terms I’d never heard before – kind of like my early days at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America when the terms anthracnose, Pythium blight and Gibberellic acid entered my life.
Lisa (I really should call her Dr. Stehno-Bittel, as I feel I’m not worthy) shocked us by explaining that she really wasn’t that smart. In fact, she said, she struggled in her advanced classes in high school. So she mapped out a strategy for her college studies. She would seek to understand issues by breaking them down to their most basic concepts and then work to comprehend them at a higher level. That’s why she gravitated toward cells – the most basic element of life.
Her subject matter this day was diabetes and finding a cure. In her work, Dr. Stehno-Bittel discovered that the two types of islet cells in the pancreas – large and small – didn’t act in the same manner. She embarked on a research project that revealed the small cells actually produced more insulin and would be more effective in transplants.
She presented the research preliminary findings, only to be met with skepticism because the work was deemed “too simple.” She continued her study and found that laboratory mice were cured of diabetes when smaller cells were injected, but not the larger ones.
She went on to explain that she has seen researchers either dump projects or fail because they loaded their studies with too many variables. She termed this “overcomplexification,” which in the urban dictionary means: “The act of adding so many extraneous and non-relevant issues to a problem that, while it may have had a solution before, it is now an insurmountable pile of ‘&*$!’ that does not even remotely resemble the original issue.”
She surmised that we “overcomplexify” issues because a little voice in the back of our minds tells us that no solution in our complex world can be simple. If it’s simple, it must be wrong.
How many times have you as a golf course superintendent thought the answer was simple, but that voice speaks up and tells you nothing is that easy? So you either abandon your thought or make the effort so complex you can’t arrive at the most effective conclusion.
Regardless of our walk in life, we must not let that voice lead us astray. Simple can be good – and it can make our lives much easier.
After all, life is hard enough on its own.