Henlon’s Razor: Sound Principle for Processing Interpersonal Interactions

Here is the statement, attributed to Robert J. Henlon:

  • "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity".

Though the origin is not too clear, there are others who have been credited with similar statements/ quotes. Here are a few of them.

Science Fiction author Robert A. Heinlein in his short story Logic of Empire:

  • “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in The Sorrows of Young Werther:

  • “…misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.”

Jane West’s The Loyalists states something similar in a more sincere (less cynical/ insulting) manner:

  • “Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives. Do we not often afflict others undesignedly, and, from mere carelessness, neglect to relieve distress?”

All of the above can be applied to actions, situations, and interactions that cause inconvenience, hurt and pain, for many reasons:

  1. It is possible that there was no malice, deliberate intention, or evil motives for the action/ inaction by the other party. Maybe it truly was carelessness, incompetence, or stupidity.
  2. It is easier to emotionally cope up with consequences of the action/ inaction if you do not think that it was the result of malice (whether or not it is true).
  3. When your action / inaction is inconvenient/ hurtful, it may be preferable (for you) to have others attribute it carelessness, incompetence, or stupidity (though some people may prefer being known as ‘evil’ rather than ‘incompetent’ 🙂 ). If so, it is preferable that everyone uses the same principle.

People often attribute deliberate malafide intent on the powerful (Executive Management, Human Resources) within the organization. The same holds true for the way journalists analyze governments. Most of these powerful people are clueless themselves. It may therefore helpful to remember that:

  • “Cock-up theories”  are more likely to explain man-made problems than conspiracy theories.
    [This also means ‘luck and randomness is more likely to explain success than thought-out strategy’]

You many also want to read Occam’s Razor for Design of Systems and Processes.

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available.
You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, country, government, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author of this post :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Are Surveys Really Objective?

If you are under the impression that you should believe the results of surveys (customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, etc.), you may want to rethink after you have a look at this episode of  Yes, Prime Minister (Episode “The Ministerial Broadcast”). Sir Humphreys instructs Bernard on how to design and administer a survey to get the result that you want. See this youtube clip (the quaint accent in which they speak English alone is worth it 😉 )

If your youtube clip does not load, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

Please feel free to to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available.
You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, country, government, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author of this post :-) .


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Occam’s Razor for Design of Systems and Processes

Occam’s (or Ockham’s) razor is a principle attributed to the 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham (does this profession  still exist? I am yet to meet a “logician” :-)).

Occam’s razor states that “one should minimize the assumptions to the minimum necessary to solve any problem”. It is a minimalistic principle (often called principle of parsimony) and can be used as a heuristic while doing scientific modelling and building theories.

Though the principle has been found in the writings of earlier medieval philosophers, William of Occam has been credited with it because he was its most prolific proponent.

Occam is attributed to have said something like “Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate” (as expected, he did not say these things in any modern language :-))- which means “plurality must never be posited without necessity” [if this was how people promoting simplicity spoke, I really don’t want to know how others spoke]

Various versions/ derivations of the Occam’s razor include:

“Keep it Simple, Stupid”

“Simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones”

“Simpler hypotheses are generally better than the complex ones”

“Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler.” (Einstein?)

One of the common misuses of Occam’s razor is perpetrated by woo-scientists who say that God / brahman/ mystical forces are simpler explanations for any phenomenon that is difficult to explain. You can know more about woo science here and here.

Though Occam’s razor was initially applied to “explain things”, it can equally be applied to “building things” like systems and processes. Consciously using Occam’s Razor may make these systems easier to operate, maintain and upgrade.

Here are new variants of Occam’s razor as applied to design of systems and processes:

“It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer”

“A simpler design that achieves the purpose is better than a more complex design”

“Minimize the entities in any design to make it effective”

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (da Vinci?)

Here is a write-up on how Occam’s razor has been used in Web Design “Occam’s Razor: A Great Principle for Designers“.

And another delightful article on design principles is “12 Laws and Principles to Aid You in Your Design” – Occam’s razor is number 1 in this list.

See this Wikipedia page for more details on Occam’s razor.

Occam’s razor has also been applied to human interactions, and that is the subject for another post, but here is a teaser:

  • "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity".

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available.
You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, country, government, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author of this post :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Probability/ Stats Puzzle – 1 (Solution)

If you have not tried to solve the puzzle, click here for the problem. The problem was discussed in an earlier post.

This is a famous puzzle, called the “Monty Hall Problem”. Monty Hall was a host in the early episodes of the game show Let’s Make a Deal.

The common version of the the puzzle used three doors (instead of 3 boxes) and a car and two goats (instead of gold and garbage).

The problem was originally posed by Steve Selvin and became famous when it was quoted by Marilyn vos Savant in Parade magazine in 1990.

The answer: You increase the probability of winning the gold if you change your choice of the box to open. The probability of winning the gold is only 1/3 if you continue with your original choice and 2/3 if you change your choice.

Here is a brief explanation of why:

When you initially selected a box, you had a 1/3 probability of being right. The host knowingly opened a box with garbage in it, so that eliminated one of the wrong choices.  You still have a 1/3 probability that you initially chose the right box; this means that the other unopened box has a 2/3 probability of containing the gold.

Amit Bhattacharjee, Satish K Mariyappagoudar, and Patrick OToole got it right.

Better explanations are provided on the wikipedia page here.

Or you can watch the youtube video.

If the video does not load, the link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhlc7peGlGg.

You can also search the internet for the keywords “Monty Hall Problem” – you will get lots of hits.

Please feel free to to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available.
You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, country, government, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author of this post :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.