The Power Of Subtraction
Richard and Maurice were running a barbeque restaurant in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t doing very well. So they took a little break to decide what to do.
They audited their sales receipts to see which products were selling more. Once they found out, they wondered: why don’t we focus on these products that are doing well? So, courageously, they slashed their menu from 25 items to a mere 9.
That’s when “McDonald’s Barbeque” actually started growing. The McDonald brothers could improve their food and reduce their costs by reducing their product line. And serve more customers per hour! That’s how Ray Kroc got interested in partnering with the brothers and franchising McDonald’s.
Subtraction is the key to excellence.
Ask a good chef how to make the soup more flavourful, and he’ll tell you to add a few more spices to it. But ask a great chef how to make the soup more flavourful, and he will tell you to boil away excess water.
Ask any Pulitzer prize-winning author, and they will tell you that the art of editing is more important than the art of writing.
Why does subtraction work?
As James Clear says:
There are two paths to improvement:
Option 1: Do more great work
Option 2: Do less bad work.”
Doing less of what is not working intensifies our focus on doing more of what is working. And that is why subtraction helps us succeed faster. By subtracting the inessential, we enable the essential to shine much brighter.
Adding is easier. Subtracting is not.
And that’s because we are hardwired to add.
Leidy Klotz and his colleagues from the University of Virginia have conducted various experiments that prove that we humans are inclined towards addition.
When the incoming University president asked for ideas to improve things on campus, only 11% of the suggestions involved getting rid of something. Instead, 89% of requests were geared towards adding and doing new things.
When college students were asked to improve their essays and resubmit them, only 17% did so by removing parts of them. 83% of the essays had a higher word count.
The recent vacation has given me time to reconsider my priorities and apply the rule of subtraction to my various projects.
Homework for you:
Subtract the inessential to intensify your focus on what works best.
Add monthly reminders to your calendar with a prompt question: “What can I subtract from my workload to focus on core projects?”
This week, I came across a great idea from Sue Clancy’s newsletter issue, Flowers, spoons.
Sue was illustrating a book for a psychiatrist when she came across the doctor’s advice:
“It is helpful to keep a list of positive things that you enjoy thinking about or doing like books/reading, walking, bicycling, going to art exhibitions, gardening, playing tennis etc.”
That prompted Sue to create a list of her favourite things. Her list prompted me to create mine.
Like Julie Andrew’s song in “The Sound of Music”, these are some of my favourite things.
I like Sue’s newsletter A. M. Sketching and urge you to check it out.
Another thing I wanted to share this week was the much-awaited book “The Second Brain” by Tiago Forte.
Tiago is the world’s foremost expert on productivity and has taught thousands of people worldwide about personal effectiveness and knowledge management.
According to Tiago, our brain is not built to retain information. It is, instead, made to have ideas. So if we can somehow create a second brain, externally, where we can save all that we read or hear or watch in such a way that we can retrieve it whenever we need it, we can free our brain to do its primary task, which is to generate ideas.
I was particularly interested in this book because I have been developing my notes-taking system. Before going on vacation, I wrote about it in detail in How To Turn Your Digital Clutter Into A Knowledge Base.
I am savouring it.
I am thinking of making it a permanent feature of the newsletter to share at least one book a week that I am reading or have read and found very useful. I often benefit from other people’s recommendations. Likewise, my recommendations might help some of you.
Let me know what you think about it.
The enrollment of Write Your Book In 30 Days is open now. I am only taking six participants. If you are interested, please let me know in the comments section as soon as possible. You can learn more about the course here.
That’s all from me this week.
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