I’ve always wanted an eponymous law, but I never thought I’d arrive at anything profound enough to coin…until today. For your consideration, I submit Sikernitsky’s Razor, or as I prefer, Frank’s Sledgehammer.

As deep background, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve burned out on the concept of drama. I’m getting old and I no longer live to create or consume more meaningless life drama.

Along with this, I realized I have grown tired of complicated answers to simple questions. They are simply additional drama. I want ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I get Hamilton. Actually, I’ll get Weekend At Bernie’s, Springtime for Hitler, Memento, or on rare occasions a poorly-colorized version of .

Patient Zero

This afternoon, I asked somebody if they’d finished a particular task. By the time they got around to literally illustrating their response, I had one of those moments of clarity. All of my senses all fell away and I was ensconced in the blinding purity of reason, a transcendent experience like grasping the Cartesian concept of a perfect triangle, or the third act of The Godfather.

I said it out loud:

“Every Word Between Yes and No is Bullshit.”

Now, there is an entire holistic range between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, at once sad and beautiful, subtle and gross. A canyon of variety. A palette of emotional color and depth which defies description. Yet people still try in the most inappropriate of circumstances. Therein lies my ire. It is, in a word, wordy.

I am not at odds with nuance. Most of the greatest works of art, music, and literature hinge on the exploration of that grey area. But I choose to explore those realms of my own accord; I grant them claim to my time.

I do not consent to have my time worn thin because somebody feels the need to ‘give some color’. Worse yet, many seem to embrace ‘a story’ as somehow superior a definitive answer, even if there is one.

I couldn’t let it go. Was it just me? Was I being grumpy? Or was there more to it?

The Experiment

The wheels started turning. In a way, this behavior reminded me of Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption — people eschew economic efficiency to signal status. They buy a Ferrari when a Toyota provides the same amount of transportation at 15% the cost because, “screw you.” People spend more to influence perception, except in our case, people spend more words. Below is the idea expressed in a chart…because you can’t have an eponymous law without a chart…

Every Word Between Yes and No Is BS ChartIn basic terms, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are definite answers to a binary question. Mathematically, any response outside that list is a null set and literally has no value. This, in and of itself, proves the theory.

But we humans are rarely binary, so if we look at the quality of the answer, we see more interesting trends. To arrive at these data, I asked a battery of questions to my staff. I charted answers to yes/no queries against where the issue stood in actual, measurable terms.

For bunch of people who had half-assed their assignments for the week, they did give me great data. It also drove them mad.

As I said, the actual value of Yes or No peaks at the extremes. Yet in their answers, the respondents pushed a different agenda. Their perception of value peaks slightly past Yes and then drops off to a very low value as it approaches ‘No’. In fact, the perceived value of a ‘No’ is almost nothing, when in reality it has equal usefulness to a ‘Yes’.

The Zone of Bullshit

So, in subtracting reality from perception, we define a Zone of BS. This area is where the respondent believes (or merely acts) as if a qualified or noncommittal answer has far more value than it really does. In short, the curve defines the depth of the bullshit required to make the response.

A fascinating note here is the length of the answers. As the response got closer to No, the number of words increased  — then dropped to nothing. This showed the value of the answer is roughly inversely proportional to its length.

In the end, uncertainty is the true enemy, not negativity. There may be more polite ways to put it, but I’ll take a Yes or No over the bullshit anytime — the numbers don’t lie. Every Word between Yes and No is Bullshit.


Editor’s Note: I omitted the 4,500 word review of relevant literature, however I will drop a bunch of names, if that makes some people feel better. They include but are not limited to: Frankfurt, Kant, Descartes, Milgram, Chomsky, Carlin, Brando and Cookie Monster.

You’re just going to have to take my 8 words for it.