When designing a project with a group of researchers, there is often a tension between being ambitious and being practical.
Sometimes the argument is made that it should be kept simple.
Don't give up your dreams
Project design is like a collective dream. A dream of making a real difference.
Richard Branson had this to say about being ambitious:
"If your dreams don't scare you, they are too small."
Although in the context of designing a research project saying that researchers are scared might be a bit too dramatic.
What else Branson says about dreams is less dramatic:
"A great dream can drive wonderfully innovative collaboration. If you share your dream with like-minded people who share your passion, you could take your dream places you never imagined going. Very few people ever made a great idea come to life without a lot of help."
I can say from first-hand experience that when there is a great dream or vision for a project, and you work in a highly interactive manner, you can achieve more than you ever imagined.
It is definitely true that you will produce more than those who advocate for simplicity and watering down a project in terms of its ambitions. But that is not to say they don't have a point.
Simplicity is the fastest pathway to achievement.
However, keeping it simple does not mean you have to give up your dream.
How to 'keep it simple' and ambitious
It is also clear that it is nearly impossible to judge what you will be able to achieve by the end of a multiple-year project. If anything, the pace of technology assures that what you can do in 5 years will almost certainly be mind-boggling.
It's best to work in iterative cycles, and at least the first cycles should be simple.
One concept that should be kept in mind is that an iterative cycle means you come back around to the beginning. The cycle should be complete. You should deliver something.
Complete iterative cycles are how you can benefit the efficiency of simple.
The simple iteration is not just a piece of a much more complicated puzzle.
It is an opportunity to learn something about the bigger and more complex ambition.
Delivery drives enthusiasm
What's perhaps the most potent aspect of working iteratively is that when you deliver something meaningful at the end of an iteration, the result tends to inspire others to join in. When you start to deliver, sceptics become advocates.
That's great because as Branson points out, you will need a lot of help to make your big complex ambitions come true.