From the Bookshelf: Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 28, 2023

A few years ago, I had a dream that I gave a TED talk on our culture’s obsession with “ER,” also known as wanting bigger, better, smarter, faster. Then I stumbled upon Leidy Klotz’s book, Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less. Eureka! This is the book that explains why our brains are hardwired for MORE (which actually is an RE word…).

The premise of the book is quite simple: we think first about what we can add to make a situation better and never even bother to consider subtracting. By not even considering the option of subtracting, we might overlook options that we otherwise might choose!

This shows up in all areas of our lives – including how we make decisions along with the “busyness trap” where we keep adding stuff to do, making ourselves even busier. But do we ever consider what we can do to make ourselves less busy?

Klotz says, “Subtraction is the act of getting to less, but it is not the same as doing less. In fact, getting to less often means doing, or at least thinking, more….Mental removal requires more effort…so subtractors need not be minimalists, laid-back, anti-technology, or possessed of any other philosophy that owes some of its popularity to its ease. In fact, when we mix up these other philosophies with subtraction, we don’t see taking away as an option and we discount the hard work needed to make it happen.” Klotz calls this “subtraction neglect.”

Even though the word “less” has a negative connotation, it does mean that less is worse. In fact, less can be better!

Chock full of stories, experiments, and anecdotes, Klotz gives us the reasoning why we don’t consider subtraction and how to integrate this powerful skill into our everyday lives.

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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