Herb Simon

Profound insights of the laureates

by Marc Abrahams

Herb Simon

EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview was conducted in mid-2000. Herb Simon passed away on February 9, 2001.

Herb Simon is the Richard King Mellon University Professor of Psychology, Computer Science, and Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1978 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics "for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations."

Do you shave with a blade razor or an electric?

I use a blade. The modern kind, a safety razor. I actually started with a straight razor.

Why did you switch?

I don't think I ever had the time or skill to keep the darn thing sharpened.

Did you ever have any notable accidents?

No, nothing but the usual nicks. But you get those with a safety razor, too.

How do you feel on the issue of one blade versus two blades or three blades?

I guess I've always had two blades, so I don't have very much experience with the alternatives. When something works, I don't necessarily test all the possibilities.

Are you particular about brand?


Have you ever had a barber shave you?

I guess maybe on a rare occasion. I can't say that I can recall one. I can't quite think of what the reason might have been.

Any tips for beginners about how not to cut yourself?

Well, I guess pay a little attention to what you're doing. I can't think of very many others.

Any advice about angle of attack, the speed of the swipe, or things that?

I expect all those things are kind of relative to the kind of skin you have. I have a thin skin.

You're speaking literally?

Literally, figuratively... anything you like.

What do you do with your old blades, speaking as an economist?

As an economist, I toss them.

Does that ever give you second thoughts?


How about the issue of shaving cream versus soap?

I use soap. I guess I've always used soap. Maybe I never explored that alternative, either. You see, I don't really believe that in this complicated world of ours we have time to explore all the alternatives. So if I have something that works, that's fine with me.

Have you ever shaved without soap of any kind?

Not when I could find some. You know, at worst you can use the ordinary bar soap.

Have you ever had a beard?

Nope. Well, once or twice when I've been out in the wilderness or somewhere for three weeks I've had a sort of a beard, but I've never been tempted to keep it.

A mustache?

Neither one.

What advice do you have for young people who are just beginning in your field?

Well, first they've got to decide that they like it real well. Otherwise they'd better switch to something else. And then they've got to decide whether they want to make a good career and have a lot of other things they want to do in life, or whether they really want to compete and be a champion of some kind. If the latter, they'd better figure out where they're going to get the eighty hours a week.

Were these decisions that you made consciously when you were starting out?

Oh, probably not. I probably have always been a workaholic because I like what I'm doing.

And would you have listened to anybody else's advice when you were starting out?

Oh, I've listened to a little advice here and there. I think I got some good advice from my first boss, and probably some good advice from my father. Yeah, he taught me never to sign in the presence of the salesman.

This HotAIR feature first appeared in AIR Volume 6 Issue 4. For a complete list of features, see What's New.