Less is More

All children are artists

They can pick up a pen or a crayon and create.  Before you know it they have drawn something beautiful, a flower or a house or a friend.  Simple, clear and elegant.

Unfortunately they just don’t know when to stop. The colouring in starts, red felt tips, green pencils, blue crayons, and then they create a…

If you have children you know exactly what I mean.

Do you know when to stop?

I love steak and chips, but it is easy to mess it up, overcooking it and covering it in a clarty sauce.

My eldest daughter has just discovered make up, she is a pretty girl but the results are not subtle.

Stopping is a fine art.

More isn’t more

So why do we:

Improvement is all about taking things out

We don’t make things better by adding more blue crayon, or more controls and checks.  We make things better by taking out all the clutter and confusion, making things visible, being clear what good looks like and then removing everything else.

Clarity is about what we take out, not add in.

Look at the arrow below and you will see what I mean…

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Image by erikleenaars


  1. “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900 – 1944)

    Let me add what I call the Frei Morriss corollary to this as it relates to customer experience:
    “You must be willing to be bad in the service of perfection. Listen to and prioritize what’s important to customers. Then chart a course to be great, doing more for the most important elements. At the same time, having the courage to be unapologetically bad and doing less at the least important elements.”

    • James Lawther says:

      Very good Stan, I was once told you can be anything you want, but not everything. Maybe that is the same point?


  2. I like it, James. I’m all about simplifying and less is more. Are there times when more is truly more? Are the types of things extras, i.e., lagniappe, that Stan mentions in his books “less” or “more?”


  3. James,
    You’ve touched on an issue that is close to my heart. I think we, as humans, struggle with ‘stopping’ as it requires us to make choices and making choices requires us to think, really think, and that is much harder than adding more.

    Here’s a quote from Charlie Mingus, the jazz bassist, that I think you’ll like. He said “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”


  4. Hello James,

    It occurs to me that adding stuff is easy. If one regulation worked then let’s introduce another one on top of that. If the first regulation did not have the desired effect then lets add another one.

    It also occurs to me that subtraction is heck of a lot harder than addition. Subtraction requires thought – what to subtract? Subtraction also requires the humility to admit that one was wrong in putting in place that which is. And if you were not the one that put into play ‘that which is in place’ then you risk going up against the folks that were the authors of ‘that which is in play’. So it is simply easier – at all levels – to add stuff. Put differently, nobody suffered by following the herd!

    All the best


  1. […] I’m indebted to James Lawther for dusting off a word I haven’t heard since I was a kid.  […]

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