Don't Be A Dick - The Modern Version of Hanlon's Razor

Without a doubt one of the best investments I've ever made was spending time learning a handful of "mental models" that can be used to improve my thinking.

With mental models, the goal isn't to avoid making bad decisions entirely, but rather reduce the amount of bad decisions you make.

For obvious reasons, reducing bad choices can make a huge difference in both your life and career.

Books such as The Great Mental Models and Super Thinking remain two of my favorite books on learning and are a great introduction to the world of mental models.

One of my favorite mental models, known as Hanlon's Razor states, "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

If only I had referred to this model before tweeting..

Before I share a real world example of this mental model in action, I should first note, that in this particular case, the model can be more accurately communicated as "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by MISUNDERSTANDING."

As a digital marketer for nearly a decade, I've seen my share of "shady" gimmicks and tricks to improve conversions, open rates etc.

As such, I have a natural tendency to recoil in horror when I see these shady practices in action.

While browsing my inbox yesterday, I received an email from a startup called Taxfyle, which provides on-demand tax assistance.

The subject line read:

In the tech and business bubble in which I live, "Re:" is frequently used when replying to a previous email thread.

It generally signifies that a conversation with the sender has already occurred.

Many marketers have used "Re:" in the subject in order to increase open rates and break the trust of their subscribers in the process.

It bothers some people, but not enough for marketers to abandon the tactic for a few more email opens.

This wasn't the first time I had seen a startup use this cheap tactic and I hastily rushed to call Taxfyle out.

In addition to tweeting Taxfyle directly I also tweeted both co-founders of the company.

"That will show them I thought!" I even made a botched "email kitty has passed away" joke. No one laughed.

Within LITERAL minutes, I received a response from the founder who by my observation appeared genuinely concerned.

He politely and in good fun explained that "Re" was commonly used in the CPA world and was not intended to deceive as is often the case by the pushy marketer types.

Needless to say, I felt like a dick. While I didn't find my tweet particularly mean spirited, my updated modern version of Hanlon's razor could have come in handy.

Here it is again:

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by MISUNDERSTANDING."

After apologizing and clarifying my own position with both the founders, I came to the conclusion that this was a genuine case crossed wires.

While I thought my snarky tweet would make me feel better, it had the opposite effect.

The interaction with Taxfyle and it's team left me feeling a new sense of appreciation for how they handled my public attack.

Instead of retaliating in kind, they carefully explained their position and made me see the light.

My opinion of the company has since increase drastically, and it was a low stakes reminder that studying mental models alone won't help you make better decisions.

You have to make use of what you've learned.

Think twice before you tweet. ;-)

H/T to both Ricky and Will and the TaxFyle CM. My apologies for being a dick.

P.S This is a great reference into how Re: / RE can be used. Highly recommend reading.