Applying Occam's Razor To Your Consulting Business

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mental models help us make sense of things and generate new ideas. The biggest challenge is to apply them in the right context at the right time, which comes with time and practice.

I have a large list of them, that I constantly update. And one of the most useful mental models for consultants to explain and understand ideas is called the Occam's Razor.

It's a principle first proposed by William of Ockham, a 14th Century French logician, which states that “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” Or in other words, “The simplest solution is most likely the right one.”

The more inputs, assumptions, or dependencies are added to an explanation or solution, the more complex it becomes. And as less complexity typically means less opportunity for error, you should always favor the simpler solution.

Leonardo da Vinci allegedly wrote, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." When you keep things simple, they can be easily understood, executed, and managed. You subtract to add.

Now, I heard some people use Occam's Razor to defend solutions that are easier and stress-free. That's a wrong application of the principle. Just like everything that compounds, the most effective solutions can be easy to understand but difficult to execute consistently.

The Occam's Razor is useful for consultants because most of us are over-thinkers. We often can’t be satisfied with a simple answer and tend to look for nuances, hidden risks, and exceptions to the rules. But embracing it will bring great benefits to your consulting practice.

Here are some examples of how you can apply it to your business:

  • Your methodology. The more complex your framework and ideas, the more trouble your clients and contractors will have to understand and follow them.
  • Your marketing systems. The more you blindly rely on complex technologies to promote your business, the more you will become dependent on those. Understanding the basics allows you to perform the same activities with different tools, in a simpler way.
  • Your operations. The more complex your processes and rules, the more trouble your staff or contractors will have to comply with them.

Occam's Razor can also be applied with your clients in mind. After every communication, they create and change the way they perceive you and your business. Here's how reducing complexity helps:

  • Your positioning. The easier people understand who and how you can serve, the more memorable, interesting, and trustworthy you will be perceived by your target audience.
  • Your offerings. The clearer you communicate what's the problem you are solving, what are the benefits for the client, and what exactly you are going to deliver, the more effective it will sound to your prospects.
  • Your engagement rules. Straightforward policies and rules for communication, availability, and guarantees make you more reliable.

Great consultants are almost always great simplifiers. They can get be presented with an argument or difficult question, and offer a solution everybody can understand. Simple can be harder than complex, but it pays big time.

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