Use Occam's razor to keep it simple

These days, the principle KISS is used a lot, especially in business. It stands for "Keep It Simple Stupid" (meaning "stupidly simple"—as simple as you can make it), or variations like, "Keep It Short and Simple" or "Keep It Super Simple." It's based on Occam’s razor, a basic rule of thumb that means, “When possible, don’t overcomplicate it.” 

Occam’s razor has been followed for centuries. The name comes from a 12th-century monk, William of Occam, who wrote about it. The gist of the principle is this:

If you have more than one possible solution, choose the one that's simplest—the one that requires the fewest assumptions. 

Or, as we put it today, KISS!

In business

So much of our world is based on Occam’s razor that you use it every day whether you realize it or not. All the sciences and maths, statistics, probability theory and design use Occam's razor to refine solutions. So do the most successful business plans.

Using Occam’s razor saves time and ensures greater success for a start-up business. The fewer variables you have in your plan, the more quickly you can test it and change direction if you need to. Your product will be refined and ready to go in the shortest time possible!

Keep in mind that Occam's razor doesn't necessarily tell you the right answer—it just tells you the best way to proceed. Start simple, then add more steps as you need them.

In a speaking test

Let’s say you’re answering this discussion question in a speaking test:

Why is there poverty in the world? How would you improve this?

Using the principle of Occam's razor, your answer could be something like this:

Well, let's follow Occam's razor. Obviously, there is poverty because some people don't have money. So what should we do to improve it? We should give them money! Simple, right? But, how do we give them money? Well, I suppose government programs such as welfare are a good start. There are also micro-financing charities in developing countries that help entrepreneurs get access to money to start a business. 

By using Occam's razor, you don't get dragged down into complicated descriptions of government programs or NGOs. You make your point clearly, with enough specific evidence to support it, and end up with a solid answer that the listener will remember.

In daily life

We also use Occam's razor when we work on understanding new things.

There is a rather famous case of a chef who followed her grandmother's breakfast recipe. It involved cutting the strips of bacon into exactly 10-cm pieces. The chef assumed that was the perfect length to allow bacon to cook evenly and maintain a crispy texture. But, when she finally asked her grandmother why she cut it to that length, her grandmother said, "I only had a 10-cm pan."

If the chef had looked for the simple answer, and asked her grandmother to begin with, she would have spent a lot less time meticulously cutting her bacon.


It's not always easy to resist overcomplicating things and stick to simple answers, but it will lead you to the best answer much more quickly. So remember Occam, and KISS!

razor [noun]—a philosophical principle to avoid unlikely explanations and unnecessary actions.
rule of thumb [idiomatic phrase]—a general guideline to follow.