The productivity myth
We live our personal and professional lives in an increasingly efficient and productive world. More than at any other point in human history we have access to food, goods and knowledge in almost unlimited quantities. It has become normal to see our ability to produce increasing year over year.
While this means access to basic services for millions (billions) of people and the general improvement of life standards for most of the population. It has also profoundly affected the companies and the way we work. Without realizing we celebrate the idea of “more” in all of its shapes and forms as we often admire:
- The company with most revenue
- The product with most features
- The organization with most people.
- … and so forth
This is totally understandable, our brain is still the same as our ancestors’, where “more” meant better chances of surviving. But this is not the case anymore. Living in an overabundant and noisy world where selecting and focusing on the few essential things has become rare but more important than ever.
Considering subtraction as a way to solve problems is against our nature, we tend instead to “add” in order to achieve a result. Think about the last problem you solved in your work: how did you solve it? Did you throw more features, people or resources at it? It is clear that with such a mindset, productivity, or the ability to do “more”, has become sacred in the business world.
However, productivity can only help you do “more” of what you think is right, not exactly helpful on deciding “what” to do. Imagine yourself driving a Ferrari full speed in the wrong direction; no amount of horsepower can get you where you want.
For these reasons, the interest in minimalism has been increasing. People start to focus on as a way to do “less” stuff but still get “more” of the right things done.
Minimalism is not deprivation
Minimalism has recently turned very popular. As people start to realize that getting more stuff or doing more activities often results in short-lived satisfaction followed by added stress.
Unlike commonly believed, the central tenet of minimalism is not about not doing or buying anything but rather focus on what brings you joy.
Numerous example can be done regarding how subtraction can improve our personal life as compared to addition:
- Few high quality pieces of clothing may be better than an overflowing, cluttered wardrobe
- Removing junk food can improve your health more than adding an intense and time-consuming exercise routine (although exercise is also important!)
- Reducing your fixed costs (e.g. by buying a smaller house or car) may improve your finances more than keep chasing the next salary raise
Work on the essential
So this is all well and clear in the personal context, but what does it mean to apply minimalism in the work? Should you drop all of your tasks? Well no (or at least not immediately). The point of applying minimalism to your work is to focus on what brings value to your company and drop everything that does not.
A few examples:
- Is this new product generating more work and coordination effort than its actual economic benefits?
- Is this unreasonable customer (we all get them) worth the extra time and effort to keep him/her happy?
- Would a new manufacturing plant simplify my operations or add an additional burden? Can I rely on external partners?
- Is this employee making the company better? Would you hire him/her again now?
In Japan, there is a continuous improvement philosophy called Kaizen, which possess a similar concept to minimalism. Kaizen achieves higher quality, profitability, and satisfaction by the systematic reduction of waste, or muda, which, can take several forms:
- Over production
- Over processing
Through these points, you can see the improvement is achieved by removing what is bad rather than adding more of what is good.
If you and your team apply these concepts and focuses on accomplishing few but meaningful tasks you can reap benefits such as:
- Improved quality of the few products and services you retain
- Increase revenue and or profitability thanks to superior product quality and improved delivery operations
- Better team satisfaction through improved clarity over priorities and reduced workload
How to apply Minimalism to your operations
As you may expect, applying Minimalism in your company is more a matter of mindset rather than fancy tools or frameworks. It all comes down to making a habit of asking yourself:
CAN I SOLVE THIS PROBLEM BY REMOVING OR STOPPING TO DO SOMETHING?
In practice, you can recur to these simple strategies to systematically apply minimalism:
NOT TO-DO LISTS
You have read right. There are many things that we do only to regret them soon afterwards. Do yourself a favor and decide in advance things that you don’t want to spend time and effort on.
A few examples are:
- Don’t negotiate on prices with a customer
- Don’t add features that have not been requested by X customers
- Don’t hire until current team is at full capacity
- Don’t use paid advertising
These are only examples and heavily dependent on company priorities and strategy. The point is that a not-to-do list wipes out in one second thousands of small decisions and tasks.
In addition to the not-to-do list you can raise the bar required for you and your team to do something. Think of it as a series of requirements that need to be in place before you proceed with a new product, hire, project, …
A few examples by area:
- New Product/Service/Feature
○ Was it validated with a market test?
○ Is it cannibalizing an existing product?
○ Would it make back end operations more complex?
○ Is this activity adding value to the customer?
○ What would happen if we stopped doing this?
○ Can it be automated?
○ What is the desired level of performance?
- Organization & People
○ Is the current team at capacity?
○ Can we automate these activities?
○ Do we need this new person full-time and long-term?
○ Would I work for this person if the roles were swapped?
○ Is he/she talking well about the previous employer?
○ Is this new level of reporting necessary? What if it was flat?
- Tools & Software
○ How would I have solved this problem 10 years ago? 50 years? 100 years?
○ Is data being duplicated or requiring manual input?
○ Will this software integrate with the existing systems?
○ Can I easily get reports?
Read our previous blog post to avoid things that prevent you from scaling.
As you can see Minimalism is simple, but not easy. Thinking through problems in terms of subtraction is a powerful tool that would benefit you and your company.
Try practicing that today and reach out if you want to know more on how to apply that to your company!