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Occam’s Razor is a problem-solving heuristic, useful in choosing one explanation from many for unexplained circumstances. It says that when deciding among many possible solutions to a problem, choose the simplest, the one requiring the fewest assumptions. If you make …...

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Razor blade

Filed Under , , on February 21st, 2015

Ride the Razor

By Seth Kabala

Occam’s Razor is a problem-solving heuristic, useful in choosing one explanation from many for unexplained circumstances. It says that when deciding among many possible solutions to a problem, choose the simplest, the one requiring the fewest assumptions.

If you make your living as a criminalist, philosopher, scientist, or theologian, doubtless you’re shaking your head at my simpleton nature, because the process behind Occam’s Razor is far more complex than its description belies. To you, I say suck on an egg. Why the hell are you reading a column written by a humorist on a humor website? Get out, hike up your tighty-whities, go bury your nose in a technical journal, and take your negativity elsewhere.

To the rest of you, read on for the point.

It occurs to me that the principle of Occam’s Razor applies to all of our lives on a daily basis. In the office, for example, instead of getting red in the face when your employees fail to perform to your specifications, specifications which have only been stated in general terms, give them a metric. Then if they fail to achieve said metric, you can fire their asses for cause. Simple. Much preferable to the following testimony given at a wrongful termination hearing:

(For more fun, read this out loud with an overwrought southern accent.)

Well, uh, Your Honor, why did we let her go? It’s simple: she’s a bitch-slut-whore.

(Judge asks question.)

Was I hyphenating those last three words? (Thinks about it.) Yes, yes I was, because she simultaneously assumed authority she didn’t have, was having sex when she should have been doing work, and then got pregnant and took a shitload of time off, causing us to miss a bid deadline on a huge contract. Millions of dollars of work–gone. All because she’s a bitch-slut-whore.

(Judge asks question.)

Well, that’s beside the point.

(Is chastised.)

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m an absentee owner and did hire her to be the president, so she, technically, had the authority to do the things she did.

(Is further chastised.)

Fine. When she was having sex, it was in her house, late at night, and she was with her husband. I had come over–

(Is cut off by Judge and asked a clarifying question.)

Um, it was (mumbles answer).

(Is chastised.)


(Judge asks question.)

Yes, it’s her husband’s kid, so characterizing her actions as being slutty is probably unfair. But why does she have to have all the good ideas?

(Judge asks question.)

Yes, that is why I hired her, but–

(Gavel slams.)

Occam’s Razor appeared in our house this week. Despite my declaration (every time we buy a house) that we will personally engage in zero home improvement projects, I found myself replacing broken ceramic floor tiles in our kitchen. I removed the old ones, found the screws I had driven through the cement board had popped up–the likely cause of the broken tiles–and I needed to remove them before re-laying new tile. Problem: I needed a square-head drill bit to fit the screw heads.

We’ve owned our house for five years. From the beginning, I’ve stored most of my tools in an extra room in the far right portion of our basement. It’s cold and creepy back there, but the previous owner was an old man with nothing better to do with his time than put built-in shelves everywhere, quite useful for tools. So guess where I looked when I needed my non-standard drill bits?

I looked in the garage. I looked in my car. I looked upstairs. I looked in other parts of the basement. Finding nothing and feeling as though I wanted to go mixed martial arts on our plaster walls, it occurred to me that we hadn’t changed the location of our tool repository, so I went to the cold, creepy back section, looked up to the top shelf, and what did I see?

The drill bit case.

With a delay for search and swearing, I finished the tile repair job, but I wonder: why do I still make things more complicated than they have to be? Why do we call things what they are not? Get angry at people for failing to achieve standards that we have failed to verbalize?

Be clear, be specific, and be simple, my friends.


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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, and musician. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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