The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


The fox spends a good amount of time reading The Harvard Business Review, or HBR as I refer to it with my highly intellectual wilderness friends. Now most of the time this stuff just blows right past me and the fox listens as his buddies engage in unrecognizable discourse, but the other day the good ole’ HBR offered up some interesting insight into the ‘clarity paradox’ that actually made some sense.

If you’re not familiar with the Clarity Paradox, it goes something like this…

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

Jim Collins, author of the prolific business bible Good to Great further explores this phenomenon in his book How the Mighty Fall. He found one of the key reasons one time Wall Street darlings eventually collapse isn’t external forces, but in fact the ‘undisciplined pursuit of more’.

It happens in companies and also in our own careers, and the Harvard article provides a few recommendations on how to avoid this trap that culminate in this conclusion.

If success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the ‘undisciplined pursuit of more,’ then one simple antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less. Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials.

What a strategy? As my wilderness friends quickly mulled the ramifications of saying the word ‘no’ in social situations, I was reminded of an anecdote in Leander Kahney’s 2008 Apple biopic Inside Steve’s Brain.

In it he recounted a story that upon Steve Jobs return to the Apple executive team in 1997, after a lengthy discussion of their many products and lines of business including dozens of computer models, printers, cameras, adapter cables, and software, Steve got up and walked over to a white board and drew two intersecting perpendicular lines. Across the top he wrote Laptop and Desktop. On the side he wrote Consumer and Professional. With the stroke of a pen he reduced Apple’s entire product line to 4 products. With well documented derision and gnashing of teeth all other products currently in production (even modestly successful ones like the Newton PDA) were mothballed.

I think saying ‘no’ worked out well for them.

Fox Tip: We all have more work than we can realistically accomplish. Be intentional about what you aren’t going to do today.

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