A cognitive or philosophical razor is a rule of thumb that allows you to eliminate unlikely explanations for any occurrence or phenomenon. These rules of thumb are handy in situations where you have to make multitudes of decisions with varying amounts of information and degrees of impact.
In other words, as a founder, it’s a good idea to use decision-making principles, or you risk making bad decisions on one end of the spectrum or too few because of falling into analysis paralysis on the other.
Here are some of the most useful cognitive razors that can help you out:
1. The Luck Razor
Put yourself in a position where luck is more likely to strike.
For example, it’s hard to get lucky when you are working behind closed doors, but it’s relatively easy to get lucky when you are working on interesting projects in a booming market and engaging with other people at the forefront of your field.
Startup success is very unlikely. Consequently, you would usually need a lucky break or two on your startup journey. Learning to intentionally increase the probability of striking gold is invaluable.
2. The Arena Razor
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;”
As a startup founder, you are the man in the arena. It would be uncomfortable, and a lot of people would question your personal and professional choices. You need to grow a thick skin, and you need to learn to ignore the sideline critics who cannot offer any valuable input. At the same time, you need to treasure the opinion and advice of other people in the arena – especially the ones who have managed to find success in it.
3. Feynman’s Razor
If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t really understand it.
This principle is important on two levels. First, when communicating your offering or business model to other stakeholders you absolutely need to be able to explain it simply, or you risk being misunderstood.
Second, as a business owner, you’ll have to deal with the justifications offered by other people. Try to develop an ability to cut through the chaff of what people say in order to grasp the meaning behind their words (or lack of).
4. The Rooms Razor
Being the smartest person in the room is great for your ego, but it’s a bad proposition if you want to grow. It might be uncomfortable, but searching out rooms in which you are the least smart (and experienced) is where you’ll find the most personal and professional growth.
If we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, it’s a great idea to actively try to spend more time with smart people. This is especially true if as a founder you’re reaching beyond your current grasp.
5. Occam’s Razor
Of all competing explanations, the simplest one is usually the most likely.
To successfully validate your ideas, you need to ruthlessly search out the truth even if it means disproving your own beliefs and assumptions. If you are smart, it is sometimes easy to invent a complicated string of justifications that allows you to hold onto your beliefs. You would be motivated to do so, especially if you stated your beliefs publicly and made predictions that your tests seem to disprove. Occam’s razor states that in such cases it’s most likely that the straightforward conclusion from your tests is right.
Doing mental gymnastics in order to hold onto your beliefs can protect your ego, but it would also prevent you to grow and succeed as a founder.
Being a successful early-stage founder is a lot like being a successful scientist. You need to be able to forget your ego and go where the evidence leads you.