Cheap Heuristics


A heuristic is a "rule of thumb", an educated guess, an intuitive judgment or simply common sense, used to rapidly arrive at a solution hoped to be close to the best possible answer.

Cheap Heuristics+ is a term of derision that refers to simplistic and erroneous rules, calculations, heuristics or shortcuts people use to deal with risk and uncertainty. As an example of a cheap heuristic consider: "It’s easier to say no." You cut off funding for further research and no one can then determine whether the decision was the correct or not. Similarly, many otherwise well-educated professionals never-the-less resort to statistics in situations of uncertainty where statistics should never be used. These professionals resort to the excuses of expediency, convention or convenience. They confuse an absence of bias with quality of results.

Imagine finding what you consider to be a blockbuster+ product following an unconventional approach only to be told you need to go back and redo the evidence using a traditional approach. Your boss has retired in place+ (RIP) and doesn’t have the inclination to think beyond his or her accustomed cheap heuristics. He justifies the decision using one or more of the Three C's+, i.e., convenience, comfort or convention. It'll be easier for him to sell the results to upper management if he doesn't have to go into explanations on why the data looks so unconventional. He prefers to use quantitative techniques as a crutch to avoid the hard walk of building all the management structures needed to pursue innovative research.


Cheap heuristics are a major hurdle to innovation in research. They simply get in the way of good research.

This is a very large topic area, and one that is not summarized in a single page. The elimination of cheap heuristics comes only with great difficulty, and is an integral topic withing the Compulsories+ curriculum. For example, it takes a great deal of hard thinking to understand the fundamental limitations of statistical methods in most realms of uncertainty. Others are not as amenable to rationale argumentation, see for example the advice given to management in the popular press. Cheap Heuristics is shorthand for a vast repertoire of bad management decision making practices.

Appropriate Uses  None.
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