Tag Archives: Simplicity

A Lesson in Overcomplicated: Gender-Neutral Washrooms

If you’ve ever been part of an organization, there’s a better chance than not that you’ve been involved in a meeting where at some point, you found yourself thinking, “what the heck are we doing?” Well, hopefully you’ve found yourself saying that, otherwise you might have fallen into the trap of overcomplicating something.

There was a great (and short!) post on Pacific Standard about the “problem” of a sign for a gender-neutral bathroom:

“But what would you put on the door?!” said a facility manager at an airport, his concern echoed by an administrator at a university: “When people are looking for a restroom, they look for the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ icon. It’s what we know to look for that means restroom.”

And the sign that answers this problem:

Wow, right?

This situation is a perfect example of how overthinking something can lead to a terrible and overcomplicated solution. Is this sign really necessary to signify that there’s a toilet behind the door (or around the corner, in the case of many airports)? Absolutely not.

While there are many problems we can talk about, let’s look at the key issue: false dilemma. Presumably, upon trying to to develop a solution to this problem, the people in the meeting thought that something had to be added to the existing sign. That is, the sign is usually a little man or a little woman, so we’ve got to make it resemble that little man or woman or people might be confused. There are clearly more options than creating that weird looking sign. From the post, there’s this sign offered:

That seems like a pretty good alternative to me. It’s universal in that many people know what a toilet looks like. To be sure, the person who came up with the idea of this pictorial representation took his laptop to a coffee shop to ask patrons if they could hazard a guess as to what was being the sign: 100% of participants were able to identify what would be behind a door with this sign on it. The author, obviously in jest, explained that his research was limited to a corner in Philadelphia, but I think it’s safe to say that most people would be able to perform as well as his participants.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting where your team is trying to come up with an idea that uses an existing structure/idea, double-check that it might not be better to approach the problem from a different perspective.

You Are Exactly Where You’re Supposed To Be

By being a good listener, people often come to me for advice. Maybe this is why I decided to get into (or maybe I got into psychology because I’m such a good listener?) One of the common themes I recall has to do with people asking about some iteration of “.” I’d be lying if, I, myself, never considered that I took “the wrong road.”

The advice that stems from this title is simple: you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

In short: if “here” weren’t where you were supposed to be, you’d be somewhere else.

After I continually repeat some iteration of these two phrases (the title and the one in the previous sentence), the advice-seeker’s demeanor begins to soften in a way that lets me know that they’ve taken ‘it’ in. It’s one of my favorite pieces of advice (along with ““) Why? Because it gives the advice-seeker the permission to stop second-guessing themselves, something that our culture is rife with. It lets the person be okay with where they are and in another way, gives them permission to stop wishing they were somewhere else.

Of course, someone may choose to continue to wish they were somewhere else, but this philosophy can be — at least a little bit — liberating.


An extension of this phrase can be used when someone is still in the ‘before’ stage of their decision. That is, I just described how it can be used ‘after’ someone’s made a decision, but it can also be offered before a decision is made. When someone is trying to decide between two paths, again, it can be kind of freeing when you realize that no matter which way you choose, it will be the ‘right’ way.

I also want to make it clear that I’m not offering this phrase/post as a “tweet-worthy” canned piece of advice. There’s a whole philosophy (see either or ) behind this way of thinking and some folks subscribe to it. I’m not advocating one subscribe to it in some or all instances, but I would suggest one take the time to consider it.

If You Can’t Explain It Simply, You Don’t Understand It Well Enough

The title of this post comes from one of my favorite historical figures: Albert Einstein. Although, there is some as to whether or not he actually said it. In today’s fast-paced internet climate, it’s important to be mindful of attribution. Remember the one that made the rounds during ? I’m sure you’ve seen attributed to Mandela. And one of the lesser known misquotes, H. Whitman when . I’ve read a lot of Einstein’s work (more than the average person, that is), and I would say that it sounds like something he would say.

I’ve had and as a result, have been exposed to quite a bit of jargon. The psychological literature has a fair bit of jargon. Part of that is necessary because researchers of psychology are — at times — creating new ways of understanding human behavior. Through this new understanding, new language is sometimes necessary.

In the business degree I’m currently working on (nearly halfway done!), I’ve been exposed to quite a few disciplines: economics, finance, marketing, operations, etc. All with their own unique set of jargon. Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep the jargon straight as some words used in one discipline are the same words used in another discipline — but in a different context or with a different meaning.

Jargon can be quite useful when communicating with people who understand the jargon. The “in-group,” as it were. However, jargon has a tendency to severely exclude the “out-group.” Sometimes this is intentional, but I’d rather talk about the unintentional exclusionary nature of jargon. And that’s why I chose the Einstein quote as the title of this post.

“If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” As I said, jargon can be useful — at times — but at other times, it can be really painful. That is, it can be quite demeaning to be in a group of people who are speaking in what may seem like a foreign language, while you sit there trying to make sense of it. Part of the problem is that, sometimes, people using the jargon really don’t understand the material well enough to explain it to you in analogous terms. There’s also just the habit of using certain words when talking about certain concepts and as a result, it can take a concerted effort to not use jargon.

Don’t get me wrong, I like jargon. I enjoy expanding my understanding of language and the different words we have to describe things. (Today, I just learned what eleemosynary means: charitable or philanthropic.) Although, I think it is important to take note of one’s company. If you’re working on a project and not everyone is of the same understanding of the topic, it is of paramount importance that the language used be accessible to all (or most) parties involved.

For anyone that has been on the receiving end of jargon-filled discussion, there is likely greater compassion when noticing that someone else is experiencing a sense of , with regard to jargon. Maybe this all stems from a person’s . This is one of the personality traits from the “.”


It’s ironic that in a post about jargon, I find myself slipping into the habit of using some jargon to explain things. That’s how easy it can be to not notice that you’re doing it. The next time you’re in a conversation with someone or in a group-setting, take notice of the reactions of those people around you, particularly, when you hear a piece of jargon spoken. I bet you could use it as an opportunity to quietly explain the concept in more accessible terms and you just might make someone’s day.