Chapter 9

The Simplicity Thing

Why do you repeatedly use the word “simple?”

I often think of a quote attributed to William of Ockham, the twelfth century philosopher, which I used for the epigraph of Work the System. To paraphrase Sir William: “The simplest solution is invariably the correct solution.” It’s the tactic to take when things are fine…and when things are dodgy and confused. And it’s a useful reminder of the mechanical truth of life that we humans tend to complicate things. We overkill by choosing a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” solution, or we get all wound up about some situation that simply can’t be changed, or maybe even worse, we spend time and energy attempting to correct something that’s not even a problem in the first place.

Here’s how to use Ockham’s law in everyday life: When there is a decision to be made and one of the solutions is more complex than the other, and you really, really can’t decide which solution to take, pick the simplest option. And of course, many times this decision making has to do with buying something, donating time, getting involved with a group or other person, or committing to some new venture of one kind or another. If this is the case and you’re not all that excited about the new idea, then “no” is the simplest solution.

We humans convolute things! It’s too bad, because it’s undeniable that most of our life-systems work well, and to get things rolling along better, there are usually just small adjustments that must be made. Not often is there a reason to complicate things. Ockham’s simple rule of thumb works. Try it in your next decision making and see what happens.


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