When to grow it, when to shave it, and when to walk away
Asha is a young marketer pushing the boundaries for extraterrestrial fashion. Little green people have immigrated to Earth, but humans struggle to accept them. To build empathy, Asha wants to promote the green people in her company’s upcoming fall collection. However, her boss is prejudiced and always gives feedback before launching a campaign. So, Asha designed a new sweater ad featuring a hairy green arm sporting a cardigan from the fall collection. During the design review, her boss yelled:
“Eww, no. Get rid of that hair!”
“Will do. Any other feedback?”
“No. We needed to launch yesterday! Shave the arm and ship it.”
“Happily.” Asha smiled.
One win for extraterrestrial acceptance.
A “hairy arm” is a minor detail that distracts from an idea’s core concept. Hairy arms can be intentional (like Asha’s fashion ad) or unintentional (like distracting typos). Intentional hairy arms may be unethical.
If you’re an idea creator who wants meaningful feedback, don’t create accidental hairiness, such as poor color coordination, confusing charts, or a distracting format.
If you’re an idea creator who doesn’t want feedback (i.e., your reviewers have a detrimental bias to your project), consider the ethics of adding a deliberate distraction.
If you’re an idea reviewer, beware hairy arms. Shave away trivialities to focus on the core idea. Nitpicking details isn’t valuable if the core concept is off.
“Razors” are critical thinking tools designed to “shave away” complexity, and some are especially useful. Stay sharp with Turtle’s new four-blade razor!
Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is often the best.
Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to laziness.
Hitchen’s Razor: If asserted without evidence, it can be dismissed without evidence.
Alder’s Razor: If it can’t be settled with experiment or observation, it’s unworthy of debate.
Razors are useful but dangerous. As most people don’t shave off their eyebrows, not all situations require a razor. Hard subjects are ripe for razors: Science, math, business. Soft subjects aren’t: Human behavior, literature, topics of faith. If you come to nuanced issues with a razor, you might hurt yourself and others.
A man wants to buy bananas, but his car has a flat.
He needs his air pump but remembers he lent it to his neighbor.
He can’t ask his neighbor for it because he hasn’t returned his neighbor’s jacket.
He can’t return the jacket because he ripped it last week.
He can’t fix the jacket because his dog peed on the yak fur that spilled from the rip.
He needs authentic fur, so he breaks into the local zoo to shave a yak.
He gets arrested for trespassing and cries, “I just wanted a banana!”
“Yak-shaving” means getting sidetracked with an endless slew of tasks that are unrelated to the primary mission. There are always yaks to shave—especially in large, matrixed organizations—and they can abound in any project, even buying bananas. Since yak-shaving is time and labor-intensive and often begets more yak-shaving, it’s best to avoid it. Two tips:
Beware layered prerequisites. Can you cut a corner?
Stay near the primary task. Can you explain the secondary task’s relevance in one sentence?