Merits of a Close Shave

overcoming big hurdles by fixing small things

In the small stuffy room, me and my brilliant teammates were spinning wheels: the record IDs were all off. We were staring at the screen in a stupor, observing the rows of non-conforming data dropping in a Matrix-like fashion, numbers unrecognizable.

OK, let’s go again, – suggested one of us for the fifth time, opening the script. We combed it through already, again and again. We checked the concatenated columns, transpositions and merges. We made sure all the complicated bits of our work were written correctly. It all had to work, because the script was flawless and so was the logic.

Yet, it didn’t work, and the error was staring back at us from the wall-sized screen. Every record ID in the set was incorrect. It lacked numbers: in a sequence of nine we only had four.

OK, let’s look at these side by side, – said one of us, and we adjusted the size of the data window to fit the program screen next to it.

As if by magic, the IDs revealed themselves in full glory. Apparently, the overhead projector exceeded the margins of the screen exactly by five characters to the left…

[Insert the desired sequence of emojis here]

In research, we are trained to use the Occam’s Razor: the explanation least cumbersome wins every time. Yet, the complexity of data management, analysis and implications of what we do often steers us into doubting the large things first, leaving the most routine, innocuous details out of focus.

Years of banging my head against the desk discovering all the tiny details that create major hurdles left me (aside from a minor concussion and a giant bruise on my forehead) with a single, yet, most important resolution:

when things don’t work as they should, look for the simplest explanation first.

Look for a single quote mark where you need a double, a missed comma or an extra space. If all fails, move the projector an inch to the right. Check the little things before doubting your sanity and resigning to redo the entire project.

In other words, use the Occam razor and don’t underestimate the merit of a close shave.

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