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Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less

by Leidy Klotz

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1015274,179 (3.57)1
"Blending behavioral science and design, Leidy Klotz's Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less offers a scientific appreciation of why we underuse subtraction-and how to access its untapped potential. When humans solve problems, we overlook an incredibly powerful option: We don't subtract. We pile on "to-dos" but don't consider "stop-doings." We create incentives for high performance, but don't get rid of obstacles to our goals. Whether considering a stack of Legos, preparing a grilled cheese sandwich, or writing an essay, Leidy Klotz shows that we consistently overlook the principle of subtraction as a way to improve. Our mental preference for addition-for adding to what's already there rather than thinking of taking away-is so wide-spread and strong that we would prefer to accommodate wrong ideas than simply remove them. Drawing from his own pioneering research and scientific research throughout history, Klotz examines cultural, political, and economic trends underlying our neglect of subtraction, asserting that we have billions of years of evidence showing that lifeforms are perfectly capable of subtracting to improve. Proposing a new way to frame our behaviors, Klotz shares thought-provoking examples and anecdotes to supplement his proven techniques on implementing a new perspective and understanding of subtraction. By learning to use the counterintuitive approach of subtracting, we can revolutionize not just our day-to-day lives, but our work across every field and industry. Subtract shows how this innovative approach to life is the key to unlocking our greatest potential"--… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
  pw0327 | Jan 23, 2024 |
This book could have been significantly shorter to get the simple concept across and still have sufficient examples, which is ironic given the subject. I ended up abandoning it since it just seemed too repetitive to me. 2.5/5 (but I couldn't bring myself to round it up) ( )
  gianouts | Jul 5, 2023 |
Got sick of this after 72 pages. Some intriguing good ideas, but appropriate for an essay not a book. This was very thin with no indication it was going to get better.

Also some silly blunders like talking about Hunter/Gatherers “digging” for eggplant. And something about how odometers only “go up” - not true for mechanical odometers used on cars.
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
People often overlook the benefits of removing things, choosing instead to add and make them more complex. Lots of examples here and some useful advice about framing subtractive changes in ways that don’t trigger loss aversion as easily, though I didn’t need the end lecture about climate change. ( )
  rivkat | May 12, 2021 |
Leidy Klotz says he has a longstanding obsession with less. He has written a book called Subtract, to attempt to infect everyone with his obsession.

It is true we don’t think in terms of subtraction; we’re all about adding on, all about more. Overbuilding, overengineering, hoarding, wordiness – you name it, we’re busy adding to it. Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger bodies … Economies are all about growth, which is proving to be problematic. Evolution is forever adding, usually without discarding the redundancies. Addition rules.

But Klotz has found some wise people over the ages who could see more clearly than that. He says Leonardo Da Vinci defined perfection as when there was nothing left to take away. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu advised, “To attain knowledge add things every day. To attain wisdom subtract things every day.” So what’s the big deal? Let’s just do it!

Studies show that subjects automatically go for the more and rarely the less. As Klotz says: “We humans neglect an incredibly powerful option; we don’t subtract. We pile on to-dos but don’t consider stop-doings. We create incentives for high performance but don’t get rid of obstacles to our goals. We draft new laws without abolishing outdated legislation. Whether we’re seeking better behavior from our kids or designing new initiatives at work, we systematically opt for more over less.”

To give one solid example that Klotz refers to repeatedly, faced with a Lego bridge in which the two support towers were of different heights, almost every person chose to add a piece to the shorter one than to remove a piece from the taller one in order to make them even. The point is that people simply don’t even think in terms of subtraction.

But they should, he says. New insights come from subtraction. My favorite example from the book is of Anna Keichline, the first female architect licensed in Pennsylvania. She invented the cement block, the basis of countless buildings and other structures around the world. She looked at the solid blocks that builders had used until her time, and thought – what a waste. The strength of the block was in its walls, not its center. So instead, she made blocks that were hollow. They were cheaper, lighter, easier to handle and transport, and easier to assemble. All by subtracting the cement inside. Brilliant.

Subtracting can be hard. Klotz offered payment to his university students to redesign the house he just bought. The best subtractive ideas would be rewarded. Although legions signed on, no one could come up with a valuable idea that came from subtracting. Klotz, who happens to be an architect among other things, ended up putting an addition on the house.

He pleads not for negative thinking, but to make subtracting an equal partner in design and decision-making. It should be addition and subtraction, not addition or subtraction, he says. Subtracting could be the real outside the box thinking.

There are four ways to think more subtracting: invert – try less before more. Expand – subtract as well as add. Distill – get to the essence by stripping away the unnecessary. Persist – keep focused on innovative subtraction.

The book suffers from far too little to say in far too many pages. There is endless discussion of observing his 2½ year old son and Klotz’s own shoe closet of 14 different models of sneaker. There is way too much repetition of stories he has told earlier. And although his stories range throughout the planet and history, they don’t necessarily buttress his case for subtracting. And he admits that. They’re interesting enough stories, just not great proof.

So while Subtract is good concept, it could really use some merciless editing to give it, well, less.

David Wineberg ( )
1 vote DavidWineberg | Mar 6, 2021 |
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"Blending behavioral science and design, Leidy Klotz's Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less offers a scientific appreciation of why we underuse subtraction-and how to access its untapped potential. When humans solve problems, we overlook an incredibly powerful option: We don't subtract. We pile on "to-dos" but don't consider "stop-doings." We create incentives for high performance, but don't get rid of obstacles to our goals. Whether considering a stack of Legos, preparing a grilled cheese sandwich, or writing an essay, Leidy Klotz shows that we consistently overlook the principle of subtraction as a way to improve. Our mental preference for addition-for adding to what's already there rather than thinking of taking away-is so wide-spread and strong that we would prefer to accommodate wrong ideas than simply remove them. Drawing from his own pioneering research and scientific research throughout history, Klotz examines cultural, political, and economic trends underlying our neglect of subtraction, asserting that we have billions of years of evidence showing that lifeforms are perfectly capable of subtracting to improve. Proposing a new way to frame our behaviors, Klotz shares thought-provoking examples and anecdotes to supplement his proven techniques on implementing a new perspective and understanding of subtraction. By learning to use the counterintuitive approach of subtracting, we can revolutionize not just our day-to-day lives, but our work across every field and industry. Subtract shows how this innovative approach to life is the key to unlocking our greatest potential"--

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