Don’t take the simple answer, take the simplest answer.

If you want the right answer to a given question or hypothesis, it is may not be the first one you come upon.  It is likely not one which is just simple, but it should be the simplest.  This means that in order to select the right answer you may need to look more than once to see all the potential answers clearly so that the simplest can be chosen.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein 

The most well-known version of taking the simplest answer is called Occam’s razor.  Named after William of Occam, a 14th century philosopher, it states generally that within a number of explanations for a set of facts, the one that is the simplest is preferred.  Occam’s razor is also known as “lex parsimoniae,” Latin for the Law of Parsimony. This idea is not just a philosophical notion.  In science, the Parsimony Principle says choose the simplest scientific explanation that fits the evidence. In statistical modeling, a Parsimonious Model is said to use the simplest model with the least assumptions and variables but with the greatest explanatory power.

Finding the simplest answer among the possible answers is good advice for every choice we make.  Here are three simple steps to find the simplest answer:

Expand your choices. When facing the need to make a decision, ensure that the relevant facts are known.  Don’t make decisions based on limited knowledge which will lead to the simple answer.  Instead, dig deeper to see what may not be immediately evident.  Challenge the limited assumptions.  Ask questions like, “If this assumption isn’t right, what else could be driving this outcome?”

Ask the experts.  It’s likely that there is someone who has at least attempted to solve the same question, if not one that is similar.  If you can, ask them personally to share their views.  If not personally, then read or listen to, what they have said on the topic.

Examine your choices. Now that there are multiple possible answers, they need to be analyzed to further understand the impact of each one being the right.   Challenge the many assumptions, “If this is true in this situation, what does that mean in another situation?”  Or, “If this is true at this point, what must also be true to support it?”

From these questions, the assumptions needed to support each answer will be known and can be compared.

Extract your one choice.  At this point, there are several potential answers with multiple assumptions for each.  Challenge the many answers, “What do I have to believe in order for this answer to be the one I choose?”

From this exercise you will settle in on the one that has the simplest assumptions.   And that is your answer.