On the Shoulders of Giants

by Brian SperonelloIcon

Specify Subtractions Before Making Additions

The ability to think strategically, to see past the chaos of the present moment, and to think several steps into the future is more important now than ever. Technology has sped up the product lifecycle exponentially. New trends rise and fall daily. There is always some new fad to jump on, some new bandwagon to ride. This means that whenever you encounter the slightest roadblock in what you're currently doing, it's easier than ever to find something new to spend time on, to change your objectives, and to look for the path of least resistance. It makes for a lot of jumping from thing to thing, and even though it feels like you're moving a lot, it's almost entirely side to side instead of forward.

To combat this, the next time you find yourself or your manager trying to add another social network to your web presence, another metric to your analytics report, or another item to your to-do list; figure out in advance what you're NOT going to do in order to execute the new idea.

You have to assume that you are operating at more or less your maximum capacity already, so if you don't define in advance where you will get the time to do this new activity, then everything you're doing will wind up suffering a little to free up space for the new task. Over time, these continuous additions without specified subtractions pile up. You wind up spending a little time on a lot of things, but none of them have a significant impact. You continually jump from task to task, but never have substantial time to invest in anything you do.

By defining your subtraction before you make an addition, it provides a clear plan for exactly what you are going to sacrifice in order to execute the new idea. Otherwise, you let your reactions to random external events determine when and where you cut corners to spend time on the new activity. If you're not willing to give up something specific in order to undertake this new project, there's a good chance that what you're trying to add is just a shiny new distraction that lets you feel productive, but the things you're already doing are actually more important in the long term.

This post stands on the shoulders of:

Robert Greene: The concept of being able to think long term, see the whole picture, and plan several steps ahead is what Robert Greene refers to as "Grand Strategy."


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