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Way of the minimalist for creative productivity

The way of the minimalist is to “remove until it breaks”. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify”. I subscribe to this philosophy πŸ’― although I don’t always live up to it. New research just out validates this view and especially when it comes to creative productivity.


According to the research study published in Nature, a series of problem-solving experiments reveal that people are more likely to consider solutions that add features than solutions that remove them, even when removing features is more efficient.

My post title may sound sound like an oxymoron in light of what I’m saying. I don’t want to make more of the cult of productivity than already exists and is a bad thing in my estimation, that is exhausting us all. The way of the minimalist is a philosophy that should apply to all your productivity efforts, not just your creativity. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about your creative output.

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify

Henry David Thoreau

The essence of the research in Nature states that humans have a pervasive bias to add things on when searching for solutions and that’s causing us to miss out on a whole lot of great ideas.

Some great books by Greg McKeown make the case for the way of the minimalist. He is the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and his new book is Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most.

Creativity was identified recently by LinkedIn as the number one soft skill companies need most, while complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity were rated as the top three skills for workforces by the World Economic Forum in its β€˜Future of Jobs’ study.

So it’s important to get yours and/or your teams creativity at optimum levels. But I’m not advocating for getting more productive with your creativity by doing more but by doing less.

Here’s what I recommend:

Speed things up

Setting urgent deadlines, even if they are imaginary, is a sure-fire way to guard against overthinking and stop you from adding more than necessary. Obviously this cannot apply to everything, especially really complex solutions. But even then, leave the complexity in the process and keep your ideation creatively minimal and super agile.

Cut bureaucracy

This is a real bugbear in relation to my work. Based on another study on what was learned about bureaucracy from 7,000 HBR readers, its clear this is a dampener to all productivity. If you want yourself or your teams to be creative it applies in equal measure because creativity needs space to incubate. Try and remove all unnecessary red tape from yours or your teams systems that support work.

Effort to outcomes

The classic paradox of productivity is thinking the more you do, the better the result. Think first and always about the outcomes rather in terms of the what you have to do. And then make a straight beeline for the shortest path to that outcome or set of outcomes. Not that all creativity can be measured in outcomes, but even a great painting sometimes is more a function of what’s not in it than what is.

Prolific not perfect

This may seem to contradict my previous point but this relates not to a single effort which the previous point did, but to repeated efforts, over time. I am guarded about the fail fast, fail cheap, and fail early mantra that often applies to innovation and entrepreneurial efforts because I do think some solid thinking needs to go into especially complex endeavours. But I would rather try and fail than have a perfect flop.

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