Tyranny of the OR

Back in the day when I thought I knew everything, it was easy to make sweeping declarations such as:

  1. technology x is way better than y
  2. only real programmers use x
  3. x is much better because it has feature z that y does not


So one day when I thought I would educate folks with my brilliance, I proclaimed one of the items above. Assured of my myself, I assumed that everyone would just accept the facts I had laid out as an undeniable proof that x was better than y. Turns out I was wrong.


Luckily a mentor of mine added to the conversation that depending on the problem, y may be a better alternative. Afterwards I spoke with him about the conversation and he helped me realize my mistake.


I had fallen prey to what Jim Collins in his book Built to Last called “Tyranny of the OR”. My mentor described it as a “belief that there is only one perfect answer, approach or technique.” It MUST be x or y, it cannot possibly be x AND y!

Since having been interested in Design (no, not just making things pretty but wholistic Design), I have learned that I never asked the question:

“What are you attempting to do or solve?”

This is one of the symptoms you see of fanboism. It makes you think that there can only be one answer when you never really asked the right question.


I think it is time that we stop thinking of the tech world in terms of OR, but try to be inclusive and make sure we are asking the right questions.

Have you seen examples of Tyranny of the OR? Is it a bigger issue in tech than in other industries? Do florists argue that sunflowers are much better than tulips in flower arrangements? If so, let me know in the comments!