Is subtractive thinking the new normal?

Creativity is subtraction

Apple is on everybody’s minds these days. Yesterday, along with my partner and new team member (@dario_rivera), I was talking to a client about a few observations we had about some processes in their restaurant operation and how we think they are creating bottlenecks.

Our conversation ended up being about how there seems to be a race towards simplicity. It seems us humans are hardwired to keep on adding stuff and quite scared of eliminating.

But when everyone competes on ‘out-featuring’ (adding) the other guy, your best bet is to do the opposite and subtract (reduce/eliminate) features. It’s not that simplicity is the new normal, it always is.

A great example of competitive ‘out-featuring’ is in banking. What happens behind the scenes in banking is incredibly complex and that same complexity makes its way to the interface between the user. I consider myself to be pretty advanced in technology and I’ve had my own problems navigating my online banking page.

BankSimple aims to simplify this interaction.

Their approach to simplicity was to begin by designing the mobile app first and thereby stripping their concept down to the bare essentials. By doing it this way, it forced them to focus on what really matters and thereby rethinking the user interface. The result is that both mobile and web interfaces are almost mirror images of each other, oozing a very simple and approachable user experience to online banking.

That’s subtractive thinking.

subtractive thinking

Subtractive Thinking

We can take the above example and apply to most industries that were created pre-internet. In fact, most of these industries and categories are being simplified as we speak. It’s also important to mention that Blue Ocean Strategy follows a subtractive thinking pattern.

Simplicity is always the best strategy. There is no advantage in making something complex.

I would advise you to take the above picture, save it, print it and hand it out to everyone in your organization. Heck, frame it and put it on a wall where everyone can see it!

As Austin Kleon points out:

It’s often what an artist chooses to leave out that makes the art interesting. What isn’t shown vs. what is.

In this age of information overload and abundance, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s important to them.

Devoting yourself to something means shutting out other things.

What makes you interesting isn’t just what you’ve experienced, but also what you haven’t experienced.

The same is true when you make art: you must embrace your limitations and keep moving.

Creativity isn’t just the things we chose to put in, it’s also the things we chose to leave out. Or black out.


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benchmarking against the competition is stupid

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