Sunday, August 07, 2005

The KISS Principle and Occam’s Razor

We all like things that are simple, but in business that’s a rarity. It gets worse if we don’t deliberately work at simplification on a regular basis. When we keep things simple, we gain competitive advantage by being faster and more productive, by being easier to work with, by producing products and services that are easier to learn and use, by being more approachable, by resolving customer needs more consistently.

At McDonalds, you give them money for a hamburger and they give you a hamburger. At UPS, you give them money and a package and they give the package to someone else, somewhere else by 10:00 AM the next day. But behind the simple scenarios, lies a set of processes that have been honed to perfection.

When we began the venture to build a blog around the concept of simplicity, of course, we did some background research work … to give you a foundation of understanding upon which to design your path toward simplification.

The KISS Principle got its start in the 14th Century. Franciscan monk William Occam (1285-1349) spent his life developing a philosophy that God’s existence was a matter of faith that could not be justified by rational proof. Occam insisted on paying close attention to language as a tool for thinking and on observation as a tool for testing reality. His thinking and writing is considered to have laid the groundwork for modern scientific method. His insistence on parsimony or minimalism led him to write simple, to the point phrases that cut through to the essence of thought … hence people referred to it as Occam’s Razor.

On the subject of “complexity/simplicity,” Occam realized that the weakest link in a chain would be the one that failed … and that the longer and more complex the chain, the greater the chance of a critical meltdown somewhere along the chain. He wrote: “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate.” This roughly translates to “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” Today we translate this as “the simplest solution is usually the best.”

Occam’s Razor becomes a methodology wherein the simplest or most obvious explanation for several competing ideas is the one that should be preferred until it is proven wrong. As Einstein later said: “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Or as we now say: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

What have you simplified today?


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