Forum Topics Occam's Razor in Finance
PortfolioPlus
a month ago

Steve Jobs on CLARITY

 Here is a 10-point summary of how Steve Jobs (SJ) created Apple - one word says it all - CLARITY…particularly when linked with another, FOCUS. 

 I’d suggest those who do a ‘deep dive’ ‘into the weeds’ (both strong candidates for most over used expressions of the year) - would benefit from SJ’s thoughts.  I Know I get terribly confused/conflicted with too much unfocused data.

 1. Words are powerful, but more words are not more powerful—they’re often just confusing.

 2. The further you get away from one word, the more complicated things get.

 3. Rather than seeing less choice, customers see less confusion.

 4. Clarity propels an organization - not occasional clarity, but continuous 24/7/365 in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, kick-ass clarity.

 5. The more things you ask people to focus on, the fewer they’ll remember.

 6. Never underestimate the degree to which people crave clarity & positively respond to it.

 7. SJ’s most important concern was making things easier for customers. Apple was there to serve them, not the other way around.

 8. You’ll get more accomplished when you converse with people rather than present to them.

 9. SJ had no patience for those who beat around the bush. He'd cut you off if you rambled. He ran his business as if there were precious little time to waste.

 10. "You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains." —Steve Jobs

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mikebrisy
a month ago

Great list.

5. Is powerful for me - never known a successful leader who couldn’t show what was most important to focus on.

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Solvetheriddle
2 months ago

It is not that simplicity is so great it is the alternative, complexity is so bad.

do not confuse simplicity with ease, there are no silver bullets, anyone who thinks this is easy is stupid, to quote the sage.

i can only point to the "5 Ps" I wrote about recently. the first two are especially relevant for retail punters. Have an investment philosophy and process that is understandable and delivers over time, doable (given your skills and experience) and have an investment process to implement that philosophy. That should be very simple and not complex. additionally, you should also have conviction in the approach because nothing works all the time and your conviction will surely be tested.

to invert the thought process what i see as a road to failure is going too broad and shallow instead of deep and narrow, ie adding complexity through volume, believing that there are many money-adding opportunities and chasing them, again spreading yourself too thin and adding complexity, jumping from philosophy to philosophy as the market mood impacts you, adding to the complexity of process, ie overestimating your ability -remember Munger and Buffet say they jump two feet walls, not 12 feet ones.

ive seen people go through their whole investing life with no philosophy, process or conviction in them, winning then relies on good fortune or privileged info. lol

finally, I would add that a simple, doable investment philosophy/process turns average investors into good ones and good ones into great ones, it's that important.

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edgescape
2 months ago

In case you need a bit of background, Occam's Razor is a decision making approach using the least amount of explanations..

So in one of my straws I mentioned briefly how I would make a selection using Occam's Razor and see if it is vastly superior to the alternative .

Right now I'm trying to apply this to all my thinking in finance and investing.

Problem is there are lots of approaches when I start searching for ideas.

Here'a a few I found from a search that I like.

Due dilligence

Low volatility

Active versus Passive investing

I like the first approach and is one I'm trying to apply.

The second approach sounds good but is also too "academic" because you need to be good at maths and statistics to get this one right as Beta is not reliable measure.

Anyone got any other views or ideas on Occam's Razor?

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Strawman
2 months ago

I'm a huge fan of Occam's Razor @edgescape. Similar to the "K.I.S.S principle".

I think that's why you see a lot of very smart people come unstuck with investing -- they seek out complexity. In fact, Buffett (or was it Munger?) has said before the reason more people don't follow their approach is because it was "too simple".

I came across the Steve Jobs quote the other day that resonated with me:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Of course, the key with Occam's razor is, as Einstein said, to "make things as simple as possible, but not simpler" -- otherwise you risk oversimplifying it to the point of losing its essence or accuracy.

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mikebrisy
2 months ago

@edgescape @Strawman One of my favourite models, that I think someone has quoted on here before (can't remember who) is:

simplicity - complexity - simplicity

I don't know who first coined it, but I've kept it in mind now for about 25 years.

You start with a simple question or problem. You then often need to engage with the complexity and messiness of the relevant issues. This is where reading, research, and analysis can help. You then find the key insight that drives the solution, and you focus on that. The answers are usually a simple idea.

If you stay in the initial "simple" domain, you risk not really understanding what's going on, and being susceptible to first order thinking, or a simplistic or naive decision.

Equally, if you stay lost in the complexity, you might never emerge with an actionable insight. (the "very smart people" who "seek out complexity").

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PortfolioPlus
2 months ago

Isn't this an adaptation of Einstein's outlook - as below?

Complexity Does Not Indicate Sophistication or Superiority

 Albert Einstein once listed what he said were the five ascending (bottom to top) levels of cognitive prowess and ‘simple’ is the cream of the crop, it trumps ‘genius’:

 The first level is SMART, INTELLIGENT people are smarter than SMART people…and so on.

 5. Simple

4. Genius

3. Brilliant

2. Intelligent

1. Smart

 Why is simple, the right kind of simple, better than genius?

 Because, you can understand it!

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Strawman
2 months ago

Given 'smart' is the bottom rung, I fear I may not even be on the ladder @PortfolioPlus ;)

And I totally agree @mikebrisy -- I found a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes that gets at the same thing:

"I wouldn't give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity"

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edgescape
2 months ago

Thanks everyone for all the discussions and I'm glad I finally brought up this topic. I think I'm starting to think along the same wavelength of the above ideas and starting to look more at the fundamental reasons that determine how a company performs.

Also I would like to stress that I was not ignoring the fact that you need to do some sort of modelling or valuation to validate everything (the complexity part) before you make a decision. But at the same time sometimes you don't get the luxury of time when there could be others thinking along the same line as yourself.

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Bushmanpat
2 months ago

Great topic! The more I delve into investing, the more I realise that a lot of people are looking for complexity and are using fancy logic to connect dots that aren't really connected.

When I was at uni (studying surveying and civil engineering) I realised that there were basically three types of lecturers. The ones who didn't really have a good grasp of the subject. Maybe they'd been asked to fill in or something.

Then there were the ones who knew heaps about the subject and would dive into the nuances and complexities and confuse the shit out of you.

Then there were the lecturers who knew the subject so well, they knew what they could leave out or gloss over and just taught the stuff that was important. These were the people who I learnt the most from and it really gave me a solid grasp of whatever subject it was. Once you got into fourth year, or more likely post grad, then you had to unpick some of it to delve in to the nuance, but you had that solid understanding as a base that allowed to you to see the wood from the trees as it were. Simplicity got the best results.

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Slomo
2 months ago

The other Einsten attributed quote I get a lot out of is:

"Everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler"

It's related to your simplicity ladder @PortfolioPlus but suggests an almost endless desire to keep simplifying - but don't go too far.

How far is too far will only be knowable with any precision in hindsight if ever but it's a great lens that also fits nicely with @mikebrisy's Simplicity => Complexity => Simplicity model.

I'd not come across that one but that reminds me of the Bezos model of making decisions when you have most but not all (I think he said 85%?) of the information that you would like to have before deciding - i.e. don't get stuck in the complexity.

My investing application of this thinking is that you need to Distill your Due Diligence back into Simplicity so you have a coherent (and ideally) trackable thesis of the vital few factors that should drive an investment decision.

That's the thinking anyway, the consistent execution of this remains a work in progress.

Thanks to @edgescape for prompting this lively discussion of mental models - always helpful to be reminded of this sort of thing.

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Slomo
2 months ago

Another take on the Simplicity => Complexity => Simplicity model is the midwit meme that's been doing the rounds in recent times.

There's a bunch of different examples out there and the below is an investing version but possibly oversimplifies for effect.

Still I think the point of working though unnecessary complexity to get to the other side is well made.

Specifically "Unfortunately, the only way forward is through the messy middle, through a valley of anti-intuition"

Source: https://alchemy.substack.com/p/the-meme-every-investor-needs-to

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