Humans are obsessed with adding extra elements to attempt to solve our individual and collective problems. When companies want to change, for example, they almost always add something to the mix: a new department, new requirements, a new business strategy, or new ways of doing things.
Strangely, we’re drawn to complexity even if it’s far simpler to make things difficult and far more difficult to make things simpler. Sometimes it’s to signal that we’ve done something to build upon what was. According to Leidy Klotz’s Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less (2021,) “The problem is that it can be harder to show competence by subtracting. When we transform things from how they were to how we want them to be, we need proof—to show mates, competitors, and ourselves. … . No matter how beneficial an act of subtraction is, it’s not likely to leave as much evidence of what we’ve done.”
Simpler solutions are often harder to spot. Many great inventions made things simpler, not more complex. Besides, the most creative people thrive not by devising intricate complexities but by exploiting overlooked simplicities—splitting stuff up into its constituent parts to reinterpret, reduce, reconstitute, or even eliminate them altogether.
Idea for Impact: Addition through subtraction can be an exceptionally effective mental model in business as in life.
Actively pursue subtractive changes. Relentlessly look at everything in your work- and home-life to discover if there are simpler options and fewer “moving parts” to achieve the same goals. Subtract your priorities. Subtract obstacles to our goals. Subtract jargon and complexity from your presentations. Subtract barriers to a more engaged team. Subtract to eat better with more nutritious, less-processed foods. Subtract your software of unnecessary features. Subtract all clutter for faster, clearer decision-making.
When it comes to building more fulfilling life practices, addition through subtraction doesn’t always work, but it surely won’t work if you don’t even consider the possibility.
Life’s much easier when kept simple and streamlined.