Life is Too Complicated. “The Birthday Problem” Explains Why.

Beware complexity creep

Flowers in Stone, Paul Klee

The “birthday problem” tells a lot about how we fail to see hidden complexity

For the sake of this puzzle, let’s assume there are no twins, no leap year birthdays, and there are no seasonal variations. No spike in birthdays nine months after Christmas or some big snowstorm.

Each “one thing” interacts with every other thing

So how do you actually find the answer to the birthday problem? Let me start by saying that if you have trouble following the next minute or so, don’t worry about it. That’s the point. Our brains aren’t wired to intuitively understand this.

In the birthday problem, each person has a 0.27% chance of sharing a person with each other person. With three people in the room, the probability is three times that (0.82%), because three connections are possible.
When there are five people in the room, there are ten possible connections. 10 x 0.27% equals a 2.7% probability of a shared birthday.
When there are 23 people in the room, the number of potential connections exponentiates. At this point the math goes beyond my personal abilities, but there’s somewhere around 187 connections, and a 50.7% chance of a match.

We aren’t wired to see complexity. We’re wired for survival.

I don’t know about you, but when I first heard this puzzle, that is not the answer I expected. In fact, even now that I understand how these odds are calculated, it’s still hard for me to believe.

Keep complexity from holding you back as a creator

Understanding complexity creep, and understanding that we struggle to understand complexity creep, also applies to our work as creators.

Hidden complexity in everyday life

You can see complexity creep in your life, too. Ever since I sold everything and moved to South America, I’ve been trying to practice practical minimalism. I had a furnished apartment, which got rid of lots of complexity.

Leverage hidden complexity. Turn small things into big things.

I promised you that hidden complexity isn’t only a thing to be avoided. It’s also a thing to be leveraged. If one little thing can also interact with many other things, that means a small thing can lead to bigger things. That’s what we see in the power of tiny habits. That’s the power of something like the Ten-Minute Hack. I’ve noticed it myself lately as I’ve been focusing more on Twitter: That a tiny tweet can lead to a Love Mondays newsletter, which can lead to a podcast episode, which can become a book.

Author, ‘Mind Management, Not Time Management’ Former design & productivity advisor to Timeful (Google acq’d).

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