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Bursts of Color - When Less is More

Bursts of Color - When Less is More
By Geoff Donaker • Issue #49 • View online
My friend Mike sent me this fascinating Nature article that highlights our human tendency to solve problems by adding, even when subtracting is the better choice. Here’s a taste:
Consider the Lego structure depicted [below], in which a figurine is placed under a roof supported by a single pillar at one corner. How would you change this structure so that you could put a masonry brick on top of it without crushing the figurine, bearing in mind that each block added costs 10 cents? If you are like most participants in a study reported by Adams et al.1 in Nature, you would add pillars to better support the roof. But a simpler (and cheaper) solution would be to remove the existing pillar, and let the roof simply rest on the base. Across a series of similar experiments, the authors observe that people consistently consider changes that add components over those that subtract them — a tendency that has broad implications for everyday decision-making.

For the strongest structure: don't add more blocks, just remove the off-center one!
For the strongest structure: don't add more blocks, just remove the off-center one!
We Really Like Adding
The authors listed numerous other examples where our bias towards addition showed up. For instance, when students were asked what they’d like to change about their college, they were nine times more likely to suggest adding a new program than taking something away. And when editing their own writing, participants were four times more likely to add words than subtract them. This despite the fact that we all know Mark Twain’s line that “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.”
Plenty of Implications in Business
Given our natural desire to add stuff and our inherent aversion to loss, it’s no surprise that companies tend to obsess about the next product, market or new hire. We’re less likely to think about what we should stop doing, even though sometimes less is more. Some obvious questions to consider:
  • Is there a product or market we should cut?
  • Are there customers on whom we lose time and money?
  • Is there a team that would move faster if it were smaller?
  • Are there meetings on my calendar that are a waste of time?
  • Are we spending money on things I wouldn’t buy today?
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Geoff Donaker

Bursts of Color is a newsletter for start-up leaders who work with Burst Capital. It's meant to include products, people and ideas that I think are interesting and maybe relevant for you.

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