CEO: Ockham’s Razor

Jun 2, 2020, 14:44 PM by Chris Coker

Also known as a “The Law of Parsimony,” basically stated, Ockham’s Razor says that the simplest of the competing solutions is usually the correct answer. William of Ockham created this principle in the 1300s. They had lots of bright ideas back in the day before they could binge-watch.

They wallowed in binge thinking.

But what does this have to do with us here at the Y?

Let me tell you that we have been binge thinking, hard. Just like any other organization that has choices about how to serve you right now. I currently have 12 staff in a relatively high-level leadership program meeting regularly to think and ponder and discuss. We are three sessions in, and it is fascinating.

There are so many competing theories around leadership, followership, styles of leaders, the question of whether leaders are born or made, and so on. Endless pages have been written on this subject, and billions of dollars have been spent on consultants (Luckily, our instructor is donating his time because we are the Y).

During this process, I’ve realized that no leader will ever, ever, ever gain universal accolades. We were asked who we thought was a great leader, and someone said Abraham Lincoln. Who can disagree?

Well, at the time, a whole bunch of Southern states disagreed, and 618,222 people died. Lincoln inherited a horrible mess, but still, he was not universally beloved while he led. During Lincoln’s time, people had to choose what side they were on, what they believed in and what they were willing to do to support their side. This, of course, is tempered by dangerous “group think,” and where people lived geographically.

It is not like today, when you could have a sign in one yard “Vote for Lincoln,” and a neighbor could be rocking their “Jefferson Davis for President” sign. 

They would have had a duel in the street over that back in the day.

So it is clear that we are living in a more civilized and enlightened time. By no means perfect — but better.

So how do you lead a Y during this chaotic, confusing time? I get emails begging me to open the pool and emails saying that it would be horrible if I opened the pool, and that is just from people on our board of directors!

The public sentiment is the same: Open. No, don’t open!

In the end, who leads us? Who helps us make decisions? Who do we trust for information? 

The reality is that our leadership nationwide is fragmented, and so is our local leadership. We are even fragmented county by county on this issue. Also, we still have not matured enough as a society to look for real data, and we rely on social media as a news source too much. Additionally, we trust the news and do not go to the source data. If it is on FOX or CNN, it must be true! The news gets it mostly right but not always correct, and they put an editorial spin on their reporting based on their leanings or their hunger for attention-grabbing headlines.

Who do you trust and what should you do? I say you consider a couple of things: 

  1. You must lead yourself and know what you stand for. “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.“ How you choose to “be” during a crisis is important. Stay true to that and modify your decisions based on accurate information. Do so unapologetically, but don’t burn bridges or try to bend others to your way of thinking. You do you. 

  2. You must take care of those you love. That does not especially mean that you lock your loved ones in the house away from everyone — that could do more harm than good. Or it may mean that you lock them in the house and keep them away from everyone. You must make a decision as a family. The cure cannot be worse than the disease, or it is not a cure.

  3. You must have the emotional intelligence and discipline to parse the data and make an informed decision for your situation.

  4. You must think about your community. You are not a hermit living in the mountains. Masks are essential, so you don’t spread it to others; in fact, a peer-reviewed study from years ago proved that you are 22 times less likely to spread a virus if you are wearing a mask. Science wins. The world is round, not flat. 

  5. You must be kind. Don’t be that person yelling at someone for not wearing a mask or walking down the grocery store aisle the wrong way. It’s not your business, just stay away from them.

  6. Act accordingly after considering 1 through 5. If you don’t think that the Y should be open, then don’t go. If you don’t think that the park should be open, then stay away from the park. You get to have a personal choice. Right or wrong, this is your choice. Be good with it. You are not a jerk. You are an intelligent, articulate, feeling person who does not deserve to be judged, and should not judge others.

Ockham’s Razor suggests that when I look at all of the data, listen to those I trust and follow my values, I know that I will re-open our services as soon as we are allowed — in the safest, most responsible manner possible. I will run day camp, and I would have run resident camp if I was allowed. 

I think that people need our services, I think that people are having a hard time with isolation, and I think that the Y can adhere to cleaning protocols, social distancing and safety protocols. I think my staff need to pay their mortgages/rent and buy food for their families. I don’t want anyone to catch the virus, but it is not going away anytime soon, and until there is a vaccine, we all run some amount of risk.

We should act in a manner that best suits us while doing our best to care for ourselves and those around us.


Chris Coker   
YMCA of Northern Colorado