Friday, May 6, 2011

Change By Subtraction

I read a great quote in the most recent issues of FastCompany: "It's so much easier to change things through addition than subtraction." This was in regards to an organization needing to change by subtracting due to budget constraints. While it may be "easier" to affect change through adding or doing, it may not always be the best, most enlightened or most sustainable form of change.

On a personal level I began thinking of these differences in how I attempt change. Most of us always have some "change" we want in our lives to produce a desired outcome - I assume that is typically some form or "happiness" and "peace". But, we try to do that through adding, not subtracting. "I will take more vacation time", vs. "I will work fewer hours each week". One ramps up the need for money, luggage (a personal love of mine) and other items, while if one were to do subtraction those actions may return the same desired results for less money, effort and stress.

As market researchers much of our research is on "what's next", "what new features do we need to add", and what else do we "do". Perhaps more of our research should focus on "what do we remove", "delete", "not do" in order to increase usability, reduce costs, increase customer loyalty and drive meaningful change instead of just additive actions that may look like progress but do not create meaningful change.

While Apple may be too easy an example to use, I think they are the best. Take the iPod "one button for all my music, no way will that work!" and now the iPad - both created a massive shift in the market as much for what they did as for what they did not do or have. Summed in an Apple ad here:
Let us know your thoughts. How can you innovate and grow personally and in your business by subtracting instead of adding?


Anonymous said...

I think there is a lot of value in "change by subtraction". Scrum, Getting Things Done, and Theory of Constraints in my view all operate through subtraction. Paring away distractors to focus on the vital can make the difference between being productive and being effective.

Occam's razor suggests a bias toward simplicity. Many of the patterns we encounter may not be actually complex, but could instead be the interactions of a number of simpler patterns - a moiré effect of pattern on pattern. It is the simpler patterns, not the more complex patterns, that are enduring.

There is a danger in simplicity too. One example is prejudice, where an overly simple view blindly applied skews our interactions. On the other hand, the same problem could be solved through subtraction - removing from our preconceptions those things that do not rightly belong as factors in our interactions.

Paul Janowitz said...

Great insight Mike, thank you!