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Occam’s Razor, Overcomplicating Shi#$%#, and How the Ego Gets in the Way of Solving Problems

Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor[1]), is the meta-theoretical principle that “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem) and the conclusion thereof, that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.
- Wikipedia

A few years ago my a friend of mine decided that he wanted to be able to watch videos downloaded to his computer on his television. The problem was that the TV was in the living room and the computer was in his bedroom. This was sometime in 2003 before we had all the technology that we have today that makes this all completely normal. The main problem he was trying to solve was how to control the computer without having to go back and forth between the bedroom and the living room.

His First Solution

My friend is one of the smartest guys I know. He went to MIT and has a masters degree in electrical engineering and computer science. So naturally he wanted to be smart and put all this great knowledge to use. So, he started telling me about building some sort of remote control using an RF device or some bull#$# that I don’t really understand. He said it wouldn’t take too long, maybe a week or two. He would have to get his hands  on some hardware and then write some code.

My Solution

I replied “Dude, why don’t you just get a wireless mouse and keyboard.” He looked at me sort of dumbfounded by how much he had overcomplicated it and said “yeah, I guess I could just do that huh. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before.”

Complication and the Sense of Accomplishment

This might be really isolated to men. I’m not sure. But for some reason we enjoy  overcomplicating things. Why would we want to do that? Well, if something is easy then we can’t brag about it or feel any sense of accomplishment. That’s the ego at work. After all building a remote control is way more technical and hardcore then using a wireless mouse and keyboard. It doesn’t take a genius to do the latter. But ultimately they both will generate the exact same result.  After all, isn’t that the end goal.

Figure out the simplest solution to any problem you are trying to solve. What have you overcomplicated in your life?

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