Instinctively, when I started writing this blog post, my first reaction was to go in search of other sources, other material that could help me enrich my ideas.

How Klotz’s book came about

And I find it really hard to think of enrichment in any other way than adding more reading to multiply my thoughts, hard to reverse the bias that leads me to believe that only by adding I will improve. Leidy Klotz of Virginia University tells us that he had the same reaction when, playing with his two-and-a-half-year-old son to build a Lego bridge and trying to improve it, he went looking for bricks to add, finding, on his return, the bridge improved by his son who had instead had removed bricks. This observation allowed him to arrive at the intuition that in his response to the problem of the Lego bridge, there was an automatism, a forced association between solving a problem and adding. So, to improve the management of a project, we add procedures, to improve the results of our company we add products or more resources, to improve our effectiveness we work longer hours, we make endless lists of things to do.  But what if the opposite were true? What if we had been thinking all our lives about solving problems as a matter of addition, when it is more a matter of taking away, lightening up, leaving the essentials, and therefore having less full agendas, streamlining procedures, reducing working hours, etc., as Leidy Klotz suggests in his book “Subtract”?


The addition bias

Klotz’s little son acts according to a natural instinct, subtracting bricks. But as we grow up, this ability to perceive problem solving as subtraction is lost and the addition bias remains. Observation of nature teaches us that subtraction and addition are natural processes. Life regenerates itself after what has completed its cycle is abandoned, dies, leaves space. Winter is needed so that the productive part of the topsoil can taste this emptiness and prepare itself for a new season of fertility, with less pests and diseases.  The book Subtract suggests that subtraction is not only the solution to our individual or work problems, but that it also works well on a social level: the solution to inequality and racism might be to take away privileges instead of giving them to everyone, the solution to ecological buildings might be to remove inefficient factors in old buildings rather than build new energy efficient ones, etc.

Be careful though: subtraction does not mean “easier”. Adding is often much easier. Even when we think about it, subtraction can be harder to do because a number of biological, cultural and economic forces push us towards addition.

But we do have a choice to end this blind spot, and that is that by being aware of our addition bias we can choose to do it differently….