A “razor” is a rule of thumb that simplifies decision-making. I have been thinking about the application of Razors to the work of entrepreneurs and artists and Joss Duggan, head of the Agile Accelerator Hub at GSK, caught my attention:
Philosophical razors are a brilliant example of this; critical thinking tools that when used correctly, just at the right moment, can be a valuable asset when sitting in the boardroom or the bar.
Similar to the idea of heuristics from the world of psychology, razors work by figuratively ‘cutting away’ the unnecessary parts of a question and stripping it down to the essentials, so we can better understand the problem at hand.
Entrepreneurs are faced not only with the problem they seek to overcome through their venture at hand, but the countless decisions and pivots explored as they test and validate ideas, possibilities, and opportunities. Razors valuable at the boardroom or bar are most certainly invaluable to the entrepreneur stripping a challenge down to the essentials so that we might find solutions in much the same way as explored in Lean Startup or in incubators such as that which MediaTech Ventures runs.
Lean startup is a methodology for developing businesses and products that aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable
The most powerful razors I’ve found:
1 – The Feynman Razor
Complexity and jargon are used to mask a lack of deep understanding. If you can’t explain it to a 5-year-old, you don’t really understand it. If someone uses a lot of complexity and jargon to explain something, they probably don’t understand it.
You’ve heard this if you’ve experienced sales training, a public speaking program such as toastmasters, or in that pitch practice with mentors or startup advisors – explain your startup to a child and if and when they understand it, you are on the right track.
2 – The Luck Razor
When choosing between two paths, choose the path that has a larger luck surface area. Your actions put you in a position where luck is more likely to strike. It’s hard to get lucky watching TV at home—it’s easy to get lucky when you’re engaging and learning.
3 – The Arena Razor
When faced with two paths, choose the path that puts you in the arena. It’s easy to throw rocks from the sidelines. It’s scary and lonely in the arena—but it’s where growth happens. Once you’re in the arena, never take advice from people on the sidelines.
There is a subtlety in this one that is incredible advice for entrepreneurs. Not just showing up nor getting started but appreciating the implication of caution about those with advice from the sidelines. As a founder, advice can steer you in every conceivable direction but neither experience nor capital dangled before you should mislead you to think that anyone knows best but those are are in the arena working the problem. If those on the sidelines knew with certainty how to succeed at what you’re doing, assuredly, they’d be in the arena doing it.
4 – The Optimist Razor
When choosing who to spend time with, prioritize spending more time with optimists. Pessimists see closed doors. Optimists see open doors—and probably kick down the closed doors along the way. Remember: Pessimists sound smart, optimists get rich.
Besides, it’s lonely running a company and you’ll be met with adversity, competition, and discouragement every step of the way. Fill your room with optimists because your mission is benevolent and inspired, it will be difficult to see it realized so keep company that will pick you up along the way.
5 – The Rooms Razor
If you have a choice between entering two rooms, choose the room where you’re more likely to be the dumbest one in the room. Once you’re in the room, talk less and listen more. Bad for your ego—great for your growth.
You might consider this a challenge. Trust me, take it.
6 – Occam’s Razor
When you’re weighing alternative explanations for something, the one with the fewest necessary assumptions should be chosen. Put simply, the simplest explanation is often the best one. Simple Assumptions > Complex Assumptions. Simple is beautiful.
Great advice when you are thinking through that Minimum Viable Product or the user experience for that app.
7 – Listen Mode
If you encounter someone with opinions or perspectives very different from your own, listen twice as much as you speak. Our natural tendency when we hear a view we disagree with is to respond and refute it. Default to Listen Mode. You’ll learn way more that way.
8 – The Lion Razor
If you have the choice, always choose to sprint and then rest. Most people are not wired to work 9-5—long periods of steady, monotonous work. If your goal is to do inspired, creative work, you have to work like a lion. Sprint when inspired. Rest. Repeat.
9 – Hanlon’s Razor
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. In assessing someone’s actions, we shouldn’t assume negative intent if there’s a viable alternative explanation—different beliefs, lack of intelligence, incompetence, or ignorance.
This is very closely related to a dangerous tendency among entrepreneurs known as confirmation bias – that we ascribe our beliefs to those who affirm that we’re right. A substantiated cognitive bias in psychology known as the actor-observer bias recognizes the opposite, that when we make a mistake or are wrong, we tend to blame external influences; thus, Hanlon’s Razor that we shouldn’t assume another’s negative intent toward what we’re doing. Take any input with a grain of salt and a dose of pragmatism: trust but verify.
10 – The Gratitude Razor
When in doubt, choose to show MORE gratitude to the people who have mentored or supported you. Say thank you more. Tell someone you appreciate them. Not just on special occasions—every single day. Lean into gratitude daily and your life will improve.
Live with purpose and passion and prioritize relationships with people who value you. In the work you do, that might be the sharpest advice to keep in mind.