Almanac – Some Random Rules of Thumb I Like

In ancient times, people had wisdom, aphorisms and rules of thumb they would put into Almanacs. In the current lingo, they’re called mental models.  Here’s a list of some of my favorite bits of knowledge from around the web — some because they are useful, others because they are just fun.

  • Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon — The feeling that something you just learned about seems to appear everywhere
  • Bechdel Test — A method for evaluating the portrayal of women in fiction taken from a comic from Alison Bechdel from 1985. The test states that the movie has to have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man
  • Betteridge’s Law — Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no. There’s a great Betteridge’s Law Twitter feed
  • Dunning-Kruger Effect — The term comes from the article “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” It’s a scientific description of someone who is too dumb to know it. Here’s John Cleese with a video explanation
  • Godwin’s Law — As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1. Said differently, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler. The corollary is that the thread immediately ends and this person loses the argument
  • Goodhart’s Law — When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Anytime a metric becomes a target, people will try to game it
  • Hanlon’s Razor — Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity
  • Occam’s Razor — In short, Occam’s Razor says that the simplest solution is most likely correct. Formally it says, “When presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions.” Though they’re historically unrelated, I tend to think of Occam’s Razor with the Gordian Knot. This was the story of Alexander the Great who untangled an impossible knot by cutting it with his sword. I always think of Occam’s razor as the act of cutting the Gordian Knot