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Occam's Razor

The common interpretation of Occam’s Razor is that when all other things are equal, the simplest solution is probably right.

More accurately, but in less common use, Occam’s Razor says that one should choose the hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions.

In either case, Occam’s Razor is a tool that can be used to assist in decision making.

Occam’s Razor is an important concept to remember when doing problem solving.

First, in the analysis steps, people search for complex causes. Often, the cause of a proble is something as simple as poor training, lack of standardization, failure to do proper maintenance, or nonexistent 5S in a work area. Occam’s Razor would say not to assume that there are complicated problems when there are uncomplicated ones present. That’s not to say the simple cause will always be the correct one, but it has a higher probability of being right than a complex one, and it will be easier to resolve.

The impact of Occam’s Razor is also felt on the solution side of a problem. When hypothesizing about what will fix an issue, look to the simple solutions first. The more complex an action plan becomes, the more assumptions you will have to make.

Again, the simple solutions may not always be the correct one, but it is far more likely to be than the complicated one, and it will generally be less costly to implement. It should at least be considered before investing heavily in the complicated solution.

So why does Occam’s Razor exist? Somewhere along the line, complexity has become tied to both importance and intelligence. People don’t want to feel like solutions are simple, because that means that their job is simple. Resist the urge to link complexity with progress.

History of Occam’s Razor

Historians trace the root of Occam’s Razor to William of Ockham in the 14th century. He was a Franciscan friar who originally wrote in Latin. Translations of his work state, “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily,” or “Plurality should not be posited without necessity,” which over time became the more familiar contemporary versions.


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