New research reveals a clear bias in people to solve problems by adding something, rather than subtracting, which can be counterproductive. If you can simply be reminded that adding and subtracting are both potential solutions to problems, you are more likely to explore both approaches and pick the best option on a case-by-case basis.

Less Is More

We all know that “less is more,” but how often do we actually work that into our problem solving? In the article I’m referencing today, the author interviewed engineering and architecture professor Leidy Klotz, author of Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less. In his book he reveals that our natural tendency to add more often prevents us from spotting easier or more efficient solutions.

Klotz notes that if adding comes to mind first, in turn it will require a little bit more cognitive effort to then consider subtraction. That doesn’t mean you can’t begin to see subtraction as a valid choice, it just might take some reminding.

Addition by Subtraction

In some of Klotz’s research studies, participants would receive random cues that subtraction was an option. They conducted one study in which participants imagined that they were an assistant manager of a putt-putt course and tasked them with changing one of the existing holes. “No-cue” instructions did not mention either addition or subtraction, whereas the “cue” instructions reminded participants of both, saying: “Keep in mind that you could potentially add things to the hole as well as take them away.”

Simply giving that support increased rates of subtraction. Even though the same cue also mentioned adding, the cue only increased rates of subtraction. What we can conclude from this is that the part of the cue that mentioned addition was redundant for the participants and did not offer anything new, whereas the mention of subtraction triggered new possibilities that otherwise would not have been considered.

This is not to say that addition is never the right option, it’s just limiting to projects, decisions and dilemmas as the only consideration. Instead of having an either/or mindset, you can work to shift towards “I can subtract, and I can add.”

Less Isn’t Always More, but Sometimes It Is

Klotz’s research shows that people tend to add, and move on. That jump to adding wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if people then considered subtracting-but they don’t. Beyond adding and subtracting, this framework speaks to a broader consideration of looking at things from a new perspective.

Do we limit our imagination in completing everyday tasks?

Wealthquest has a history of this. We could have easily been another firm that was institutionalized to grow wealth, read reports to clients and close the door at the end of the day. Instead, we considered the possibility of not adding to the oversaturation of firms with the same mission as everyone else. We asked ourselves what was missing. How can we step into this space not to add to what’s already there, but to take away the stress of finance of people’s lives?

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