I’ve been thinking about less a lot lately. Exploring the idea of subtraction, but more so about the notion of addition by subtraction. Our culture seems bent on development, expansion and constantly adding to what already exists. Opposition to this idea can leave you in the company of a very small minority, but what about the virtues of simplicity, unlearning and removal? How many times in your life has taking something away left you with something far more precious and manageable? How many times has stepping out of the constant hustle and bustle, taking a breath and truly appreciating the space created, been of benefit?
In his recent book, Subtract - Untapped Science of Less, author Leidy Klotz postulates that…
“In our striving to improve our lives, our work, and our society, we overwhelmingly add. We overlook the option to subtract from what is already there.”
Klotz shares a story about how his 3-year-old son Ezra solved an imbalance problem with a Lego bridge by not adding more blocks but by simply removing one. His solution to the problem became the inspiration for a university research study whose results showed that participants all tended to solve the problem by adding blocks rather than removing them.
Think about most of the projects and things you do on the property you tend. How often do you improve things by the simple act of subtraction? Removing overgrown trees, reducing inputs like fertilizer and water, the removal of thatch, and my personal favourite… removing bunkers. Each of these scenarios is an example of choosing to remove something in order to allow for a better outcome. The space created by subtracting actually improves things in the long run.
How often do you improve things by the simple act of subtraction? Removing overgrown trees, reducing inputs like fertilizer and water...
We live in a culture which has taught us to throw ever more consumer resources at a problem. Just buy this and all your problems will be solved! We also live in a society which has pared down financing for human resources to a bare minimum. Our work lives reflect the imbalance which arises when we live between these two realities.
Now think about all of the things you do at the golf course which involve adding things. More staffing, more on course amenities, more trees, more fertility and water, more features? Do these additions serve to simplify your departments or do they only make things more complicated? Obviously, the answer to this question can vary depending on what we choose to add (more staff can be a big help by times) but invariably addition serves to squeeze out valuable space and leave less time for more important things.
What if you turned the mirror around and looked at your own life? Pause and reflect on a time when you faced a turning point or dealt with an issue that needed to be solved. What was your initial reaction? Did you automatically turn to the idea that adding something will solve things? Think of any of the major life situations you have found yourself in. Was there a story that held you back? A long-held belief that you had to let go of to create the space for something new to emerge?
When you choose subtraction, you remove a barrier. By removing this barrier, you inevitably create space where before there was constraint. Your thoughts, personal stories, judgments and opinions are the same as the clutter and overgrowth on our golf courses. You tell yourself how vitally important these are to proper functioning, only to find out that once they are removed, things seem to flow a little easier. When space is created by letting something go or simply removing it, perspective changes and you tend to see things from a new and fresh point of view.
When you choose subtraction, you remove a barrier. By removing this barrier, you inevitably create space where before there was constraint.
So, if you are up against it lately and trying to desperately solve a problem, be it on course or in your personal life, consider the idea of subtraction. Reflect on the notion of removing something in order to allow for a simpler, more elegant solution to your issue. The space you create might just allow for a far better outcome than you have been socialized to expect.
Thanks for reading