#175 – Decision-making and Occam’s Razor

Leaders often seek guiding principles for the myriad decisions that comprise the daily fare of leadership. One such precept is known as “Occam’s Razor,” often stated as: “When there are multiple solutions to a problem, choose the simplest one.” I recently came across a reference to the reportedly original author of this principle, William of Occam, an English Franciscan friar. In the early 1300’s he wrote about the principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in logic and problem-solving, positing that “Among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” I further discovered that these principles were a common topic for philosophical arguments of the day (which in medieval times, were sometimes a matter of life and death) and that William of Occam is not necessarily the originator, perhaps simply one of the most well-known writers of that period.

Food for Thought ~

Leaving the controversy regarding authorship and attribution to scholars, there is certainly a large kernel of wisdom here for leaders. I have found that the dance between simplicity and complexity is one of the fundamental crucibles for leaders. We all yearn for things to be simple, yet sometimes they are not, and must be treated accordingly. I have found that forced over-simplification does no service in the long run, and creates more problems than it solves. Yet, I highly value simplicity, economy and succinctness; and indeed they should be included as measures for our deliberations. Thus, I try to simplify whenever it will be of service to the issue at hand and I counsel patience and discipline when complexity prevails. To my mind, this is part of a leader’s critical role – providing refined judgment and guidance on the balance between simplicity and complexity, understanding when and where each principle applies.

Question for the day ~

As a leader, do you make conscious efforts to find the appropriate balance between simplicity and complexity in your decisions?

In Closing ~

People are still reading my”Strategies – the Second Cornerstone of Business Success” in the NorthBay Business Journal. If you haven’t yet had a chance to do so, you can click here to read the full article.