June 28, 2022

171 Innovative Thinking & Strategy by Tapping Into the Science of Subtraction with University of Virginia Professor Leidy Klotz| Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

171 Innovative Thinking & Strategy by Tapping Into the Science of Subtraction with University of Virginia Professor Leidy Klotz| Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Leidy Klotz, a professor at the University of Virginia appointed in the Schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Business and author of the book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less. Leidy Klotz shares some of the reasons why we typically look to add rather than consider subtraction when looking to solve problems and improve systems. Leidy Klotz also discusses how subtraction can benefit leaders of organizations and managers of teams. Finally, Leidy Klotz shares how we can ensure that we don't overlook the power of subtraction in our organizations and daily lives.   

Some highlights:

-Why Leidy Klotz left professional soccer to pursue his education and become a professor

-Leidy Klotz on finding patterns and how they impact the world

-Why do we typically miss subtraction and look first to addition

-Leidy Klotz on the biological and social contributors to a desire to add 

-How organizations can benefit from the power of subtraction 

-How leaders can use subtraction during the decision-making process

-Leidy Klotz on effectively achieving the organization's purpose through subtraction


-Annie Paul, author of The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain 


Connect with Leidy Klotz:

Leidy Klotz website

Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less on Amazon

Leidy Klotz on Twitter

Leidy Klotz on LinkedIn

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:




More information and resources are available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



[00:00:00] Mahan: Welcome to partnering leadership. I'm really excited this week to welcoming Leidy Klotz. Leidy is a professor at the University of Virginia, where he is appointed in the schools of engineering, architecture, and business. He's also the author of the book "Subtract: The untapped science of less". It is an outstanding book, which I refer to in my solo episode in January, where I talked about the fact that we need stop doing lists rather than start doing lists. And much of that thinking came to me from reading Leidy's book . 

And as I mentioned to him, whether it is in working with clients on organizational strategy or effective execution of plans and strategy, I keep referring to many of the ideas that came out of Leidy's book on the need for subtraction.

And as Leidy repeatedly says, it is not subtraction or addition it is subtraction and addition, the fact that we typically keep adding without first also looking at the untapped science of less. So I've learned a lot from Leidy reading his book, really enjoy this conversation where Leidy shares rich examples on how we can use subtraction in our organizations. I am sure you will learn a lot from Leidy and be able to implement some of the ideas in your teams and organizations in order to become more effective at executing your organizational strategy. 

I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. mahan@mahantavakoli.com There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. Really enjoy those voice messages. Don't forget to follow the podcast. 

Now here's my conversation with professor Leidy Klotz

Leidy Klotz welcome to partnering leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.

[00:02:01] Leidy: Thanks. it's terrific to be here.

[00:02:03] Mahan: Leidy I love the book, Subtract: The untapped science of less. And for more than a year, I have been quoting it. I've been talking about it when, especially talking to organizations and working on strategic planning. Can't wait to get to some of the conversations around your book, but before we do, we'd love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become.

[00:02:27] Leidy: I grew up in upstate New York the finger lakes region in Cortland so it's near Ithaca and small town. My dad was a. Professor, he is retired now. I Have a brother and a sister. I was the oldest one. I spent a lot of time playing soccer growing up, so it wasn't like I was laser focused on where I ended up.

But I was also did a good job in school and just was fortunate enough to have good parents in a supportive community that helped me. And a lot of other young people find our interests and make meaning in our life.

[00:03:06] Mahan: Leidy you also spent some time as a professional soccer player, then what got you back into education and getting your PhD and becoming a professor?

[00:03:16] Leidy: I always liked learning and knowing things, and my focus on soccer was recognition of look, this is the time when I can focus on soccer. It's not something I can pick up when I'm 40 years old and then decide to really put my all into it. And so I played professional soccer after college for a couple of years.

 And then it was boring. It was fun playing soccer, but it was a very small amount of my hours per day and plus I wasn't Lionel Messi, so I was sitting on the bench, which is frustrating, plus I was making like $2,000 a month, I was making decisions at the supermarket about whether I could buy cheese that week. And that was . I was like, I don't know if I want to be doing that for the rest of my life. So that was when I went back and worked and really I work with a lot of college students now as a professor and they're all thinking oh, what do I want to do for my career?

I really didn't think about that until after I was done playing soccer and I started working in a construction management job, which a lot of engineering students end up doing. And that's when I started thinking about my career and the PhD. The thought of being a professor appealed to me, the thought of being able to do research and then teach was really appealing to me, of course you needed a PhD to be able to do that. And so that's when I got onto that path.

[00:04:35] Mahan: Leidy one of the things I find interesting is that you are a professor that also teaches in three different schools at UVA. Typically a lot of times professors become experts at just one thing and therefore miss seeing patterns in the world, outside of their field of expertise. What was it that guide you to do things differently in order to then be able to see these patterns in a world outside.

[00:05:05] Leidy: That's a really nice way of putting it. And I think correct, in terms of seeing the patterns. I would say there are a number of things, but probably the most important is being motivated by the impact in the real world. And so I'm concerned with climate change and maintaining a planet that people can live and thrive on, not just in the future, but now.

And when you have that kind of focus, then you're not stopping at the border of a discipline. The problem is not that people don't know how to build green buildings, it's that we're having a hard time getting green buildings to be the most common thing , or to get social acceptance.

And maybe I could learn something in sociology and psychology. So first and foremost, I think it's being motivated by those issues. And then I'm not willy nilly going into psychology and saying, oh here I am. And I'm ready to take these ideas just like the people who've been doing this, their whole lives, but I'm also motivated to go and talk to the psychologist and do my due diligence and learn how their field is, could contribute to this problem. I'm glad you asked about it, because I think that , those opportunities were trying to create more and more of them in academia.

And of course there's, most people are motivated by those things, nobody probably answers your first question with, oh, I always grew up with a deep interest in social psychology. Maybe you had an interest in it, but you don't even know what it was called. You're not interested in the discipline. You're interested in what it means for the world. 

[00:06:38] Mahan: One of the things that I believe Leidy is that with the greater complexity in the world, we need more people that can go out of just their particular discipline and be able to see those patterns. So the expertise. Has to be deep but deep in different fields to be able to see the patterns. 

I also know you are a fan of systems and I think systems are really important. Your previous book touched on that. Love the title, "Sustainability through soccer and unexpected approach to saving our world." So how do systems interplay when we are thinking about. Subtraction, which is the topic of your most recent book.

[00:07:28] Leidy: The title that I wanted for the first book was I think seeing systems through soccer or something like that because I thought like the systems is the core learning outcome in that book, but the publisher rightfully said that nobody's gonna be interested in that.

Although it's debatable, whether they're interested in both sustainability and soccer too. But anyway I think that the systems provides like an organizing framework as you try to go across these disciplines. And as you try to understand this complexity in the world so systems is a scientific approach to appreciating all that complexity, for example, and then figuring out the parts that you can strip away for the problems that you care about and that, stripping away the parts comes into play.

That's subtracting, right? There's the mental stripping away of parts of the system where it's okay, yeah, this is important to my organization or even to a physical system like climate, but it's this thing over here is a hundred times more important. We can't distract ourself on this small thing. So I think that the systems is the really appealing way to keep the interdisciplinary pursuit grounded in a rigorous scientific approach.

[00:08:45] Mahan: It is really important to look at those systems. But one of the things that I find Leidy is that it's a lot easier to add to systems than it is to subtract from systems. So let's go to this term subtraction that I'm throwing around before then we talked about the systems of it. What is subtraction and how did you come up with the idea that maybe we can do things better at times with subtraction, you keep making the point and it's important to make that it's not subtraction or addition you can subtract and add. So how did you come up with the idea of subtraction as a value add potentially in systems?

[00:09:34] Leidy: Yeah, I've always been interested in kind of these lesses more examples. In that end state of less. So here's a really cool building design. That's very sleek and streamlined or here's the iPhone, for example, doesn't have very many features and people like it because of that. So that was less is the end state though.

I really focused in on subtraction. I was actually playing Legos with my son. And this story has been described as apocryphal, but it's not, it's true. I had to look up the definition when the person said the apocryphal story. It's no, this really happened. 

So I'm playing and we had the Dupo box, he was three at the time. And we had a bridge that the problem that we were dealing with was the bridge wasn't level. And I turned around behind me to grab a block, to add to the shorter column. And before I could attach it, as I turned around, he had already removed a block from the longer column. And I was like, that's it.

That's what I'm interested in. Right there is like, why in that moment was my first thought, okay, what could I add? And if my son hadn't been there, I would've added that, moved on and never even thought of taking away in the first place. So that moment helped me focus in, on subtracting as an action and also signaled what we would find through three years of research with some really talented collaborators that, what happens is we all tend to do what I did in that moment, which is think first of what we can add, not just to Lego bridges, but to any kind of situation that we're trying to improve.

We think first of what we're gonna add, and the problem is we then move on. We add. And think that we've solved the problem and move on without even considering subtraction. And the problem there for me at least is this is we're systematically overlooking one of the most basic ways to make change, and that's why I wrote the book. And that's why I'm excited that you're talking about it to your audience. That's amazing. An amazing outcome, putting more options in people's arsenal. 

[00:11:39] Mahan: It is important option. And the other thing I love about your book before talking about the option, Leidy is the fact that you could have written a book based on that experience with your son. But what you did as a researcher that you are, you went about and did lots of studies in different case examples use different things. So it's not just Legos. It's not just design. We tend to gravitate toward addition in lots of different circumstances. So it's not just your son playing with Legos.

[00:12:18] Leidy: Yeah, exactly. And I worked with Gabe Adams and Ben Converse and Andy Hales, Gavin Benner professors here at the university of Virginia. Andy's at university of Mississippi now and we were all equal collaborators in this. The research that makes up the first chapter of the book showing that we overlook subtraction.

We extended some of the Lego studies. Ben had the ideas like, oh, let's just give people Legos and see what they do. He had his research assistants give Lego structures to 60 people and Hey, make this better. Only one person thought to take Legos away.

 I remember he emailed back biggest bias ever. And of course it's a little interesting, but there's a lot of explanations for that. It could just be that people are conditioned to add with Legos or maybe adding to Legos was the better way to make the structure to improve the structure.

We eventually got to, okay. How do we create situations that are objectively subtracting is the right answer. So we had some Lego structures, for example, where you could do the task by subtracting one block or by adding eight blocks or four blocks. And so when people added it showed that they didn't even think, oh, I could have subtracted this one block over here and I would've accomplished the objectives.

Now you mentioned that we wanted to see this in more than just physical improvements. So we thought of it in terms of objects, the Legos, but also ideas and kind of situations or organizational context. Oh, for an organizational one, we had our university did strategic planning. When we got a new president and he said, oh, call for ideas.

And we got our hands on that data. And it was only, there were fewer than 10% of the suggestions were subtraction, so that brings true to everybody that I talk to about brainstorming or suggestions for how to make something better is it's so easy to think of the adding. And again, these were like, there's nothing wrong with the suggested additions, but the fact that only , less than 10% suggested subtraction, that, suggest that some stuff was getting left on the table, something was getting systematically overlooked. 

So we looked at kind of organizational situations. We did an itinerary study. Your audience will love this. At least the audience in the greater DC area was we gave them a trip to Washington, DC, prepopulated on a screen and it was in a drag and drop format.

And it's here are the 14 things that are on your itinerary and it's a one day itinerary. And these are big things. It's visit the Smithsonian and go to a four star bistro. There was, we figured out the travel time between all of the things afterwards, and it was like two and a half hours worth of travel, assuming optimal traffic in DC, which never happens.

So it was just like this impossible day. We said, okay, you can, you have the opportunity to improve this? And they could take things off, drag them off, or they could drag new activities on more people, dragged activities onto that impossible schedule than took them off. So this is as you see that parallels and why we get so busy with our day to day lives just adding things to our activities and then the ideas, It's like we can build our mental models and even the way that we talk about ideas, we construct knowledge, we build mental models, it's very additive language and we often think, okay, what new ideas can I put in? And of course I'm a professor. I think that's the most important thing we can do is keep learning.

But how much time do we spend actually like reevaluating what our mental models are built upon and weeding out things that we shouldn't prioritize anymore or that we've been shown aren't actually the case. And so we found in our studies that we overlook it in all of these contexts, probably the most convincing one, if you've got the kind of real people are really interested in the cognitive psychology, we gave people random grids on a computer screen. And same thing with the Legos design, where it was Objectively better to subtract these grid patterns. You could make them symmetrical, which was what we had tasked the participants to do.

You could make them symmetrical by adding blocks to three corners of the grid or by subtracting blocks from one corner of the grid. We had a number of patterns that roughly followed that same approach and people systematically overlooked subtraction in those grid patterns too. And these are grid patterns that you can't explain this oversight with, oh, people have been practicing with grids and therefore are trained to do this. It was something they had no prior exposure to. 

So all combined those studies made it onto the, cover of nature, which is the highlight of my academic career. And I'm sure we'll stay that way. 

[00:17:09] Mahan: Studies support the point that again, we tend to have almost a knee jerk reaction whether you call it a heuristic or anything else to add. And I even remember Leidy at the beginning of the pandemic. There was a lot of joy of the subtraction of the commute and the time people were spending doing frivolous activities and everything else over the past couple of years, even for many people, the commute not having return.

The time has been filled up with other purposeless activities. So we tend to add now a lot of people that I talk to say, what the heck am I gonna do when the commute is added? Because I have no time and it's not as if they're achieving more anyway. 

So what I wonder is you say just as we can't fly without respecting and understanding gravity, we can't get to less without respecting the forces that are pulling us toward more. So what are some of those forces that are pulling us towards more?

[00:18:20] Leidy: I mean, As with any behavior, it's a combination of biological, cultural, and socioeconomic forces. One misconception that people might have is that, oh, this is just because we live in a capitalist society and growth is prioritized. And I do think that's probably a contributing factor, but that's much more symptom than cause if we go all the way back to evolutionary reasons or biological reasons. Acquiring stuff has been an evolutionary advantageous behavior. Animals that stockpile food in lean times are in good times are more likely to survive through lean times. Another biological logical Factor is this desire we have to display competence. And I don't think it's surprising that we have a desire to display competence. I think any of your listeners would know that. But just, I was surprised at least to learn how biological that was that and one of the examples is the bower birds that build the ceremonial nest.

So the male Bower birds will build these fancy nests. The female Mount Bower birds will decide which male to meet with based on the nest. And then the female Bower bird goes and builds a nest to shelter the young. So the whole point of the first nest is just to show that this male was competent, that it could effectively with the world.

That's something that we all share and has been more recently shown to extend to task completion. So one of the ways that we show we're competent or feel like we're showing we're competent is by successful completion of tasks. And that's why it's like when you check a marginally useful thing off your to-do list, it gives you a little bit of that feeling.

So we need to appreciate that and respect that. And the reason that. That systematically disadvantages less, because, of course, you're showing competence when you subtract something, but there's no evidence left behind that you did it. So if you clean up area like lot in the city there's no okay, this is Mahan's donation allowed this to happen, but if you build a new building, then it's like your name's on that for the next, however long that building lasts. 

So I think we can still show competence through subtraction, there are some ways, but it does have a systematic disadvantage in terms of those evolutionary forces. And then culturally, I think it's long been better to add probably . If we're trying to build civilizations and try if you don't have shelter and if you don't have a steady supply of food and if you don't have electric infrastructure, it's it makes sense , to add these things.

And I would probably say that if I had to. I did say it in the book actually. If I had to choose adding or subtracting, I would choose adding because it may even still be better more of the time. But we don't have to choose and so I think culturally, historically been better to say, okay, what can we add to the organization? What road can we add to the city? And now we're getting to the point where we're now increasingly seeing situations where a lot has been added, which means there are more opportunities to take away, and that's a relatively new phenomenon for us. So that was one of the cultural reasons.

And then the economic stuff again, capitalism maybe. But Growth is growth equals more or progress equals more is the misconception we need to be fighting against. I'm a firm believer in striving for progress. I'm an engineer, that's the engineering part of me.

But it does seem like we can make progress by subtracting. And in fact, that's the kind of at the core of the book.

[00:22:01] Mahan: That's actually one of the reasons I really appreciated your book in that it is not a pursuit of minimalism or a pursuit of less for the purpose of less. Not that there's anything wrong with that. However, this is subtract and subtraction as a way to make the system stronger, better. So it's not less for the purpose of less, it's less for the purpose of achieving more, doing better.

[00:22:30] Leidy: Yeah. you're exactly right. There's nothing wrong with minimalism and it's a totally different kind of less there's one form of less is you just don't do anything. But subtracting means that you do a whole bunch of adding. And then you actually have to do more because you have to do the adding and then you have to do extra work to take something away, and we see that cognitively. It's not that we can't think of subtraction. It's just that our default wiring is like, okay, we're gonna think of adding first left to our own devices. So you have to think a little more to subtract. And then in the real world, you have to do more to subtract. And I think that part of the reason that this seemingly simple concept is enacted more is because people think that just because the concept is simple, that it's gonna be easy to accomplish, which in fact I think it's probably harder to do than simply adding.

[00:23:22] Mahan: Now Leidy your book is full of gems. One of them that I have highlighted, and I keep telling my clients and reflecting on is the fact that when we are cognitively busy, we are more likely to add. And for a whole host of reasons, most of the managers, organizational leaders that I deal with feel that they extremely cognitively busy being pulled with greater uncertainty in the work environment, trying to transition their teams to hybrid how to do it, trying to re-strategize. So you say that when that's happening, when we're cognitively busy, we are even more likely to add.

[00:24:07] Leidy: Yeah, I'm so happy you pulled that out as a takeaway, cuz I've regretted often, maybe not even making a bigger deal of that in the book. Because it creates this back to systems. It creates this reinforcing feedback loop. Just the time when you most need subtraction is the time that you're least likely to do it, which is a big problem. it's like here we are overworked overloaded, and now you're even less likely to think of the very thing that would might actually relieve that situation.

[00:24:35] Mahan: In addition to recognizing that you should subtract. And the fact that when we are cognitively busy, we are less likely to subtract. What can we do to actually put the subtraction to practice Leidy because one of the challenges is I find people nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that makes sense. But that doesn't necessarily translate the next day to behaviors or decision making in the organization.

So what can leaders do to actually implement some of this subtraction in their decision making process and in the organization?

[00:25:13] Leidy: One of the cool things , I forget which colleague it was in the study came up with was that we should do reminders that subtracting was an option. And so imagine this grid experiment and it's the same grid experiment, except for now, some of the participants are seeing a reminder, Hey, you can add or subtract squares in a rational mode of thinking that shouldn't matter, it should just be like, okay, people are going to do what they're going to do. 

But what happened was that the subtracting reminder made people subtract more and you're like, okay, big deal. A reminder helps people subtract more, but it didn't help people add more. So for adding, this was redundant, the reminder was redundant people weren't thinking of this for subtracting. It brought new ideas to mind, which helped provide evidence to this notion that we aren't thinking of this, or at least aren't thinking of this as easily. But as a practical tip, you can say, okay, reminders. Right? 

And so like, yes, this podcast is a reminder. My book's a reminder. I'd also say that it's really important to get those reminders really close to where the decision is being made. As we wanna shift our overall thinking. And the more you engage with this idea, the more that'll happen.

But also when you come to a specific decision in your life for me, it's if I'm doing my to-do list, do I also consider stop doings? That makes it totally solves that problem of overlooking subtraction. At least I will consider it and then I'll still have to figure out if I can follow through with it.

But at least I will have considered whether a stop doing might be beneficial. And if you like take that into the organizational context, you can think of organizational stop doings. start, stop continue. Is that thing that people do that's at least reminds you to that stopping is an option.

It should probably be organized. Stop, continue, start, maybe. Because you should probably subtract the things that are useless before you decide what the new things are to do. Because once you've subtracted the useless stop, you might realize that the new thing is something different. So those kinds of reminders and building them into the decision making process.

Reminders can be everything from, Hey, just think about this to, no, you have to do this. So it's every new process that somebody suggests you have to suggest two processes that are going to be removed. So rules like that and incentives I've worked with some organizations where after I talk the CEO be like, okay, we're now whoever I forget how they exactly did it, but it was basically tying the leaders pay to the amount of subtraction that they were able to come up with. It's okay that's gonna work in terms of solving the problem of people, not overlooking this.

And I think the more that happens, the more, it also nicely solves that problem of competence, because when you're just the person off there on your own, maybe not attending one meeting because another thing is more important. It can be misperceived as you're not competent.

But if the directive or if the company culture is like, Hey, we're all empowered to subtract things that aren't adding value. Then you are displaying competence by subtracting.

[00:28:29] Mahan: That's something that I would encourage all the listeners to go through Leidy and the process that I've gone through with clients. It is really hard for people. So initially they end up coming up with 101 reasons why they can't do. To stop doing list in whatever their roles are. We are client facing, we are in government service, we are fill in the blank, therefore we have no control. After a lot of thinking and pushing. They are able to come up with stop doing elements that will help them then add or do what they need to get done more effectively. 

What I encourage everyone to do is to really go through this process and overcome the initial barrier, which is I don't have the control. I'm not the CEO of the organization or we are in a client facing role. We don't have the control. Yes, you do. If you really overcome the barrier and think through this stop doing this in this process. 

Now, one of the challenges that I find Leidy is a big part of my work is working with organizations on their organizational strategy. And when we go through strategy conversations, subtraction becomes a real problem part because of the strategic conversations, part because of its impact to the image, to the power, to the positional authority of the people in the organization. 

How would you approach organizational strategy and thinking in a way that incorporates subtraction as a part of the conversation?

[00:30:19] Leidy: That's really a great segue from even after we think of this there are systematic barriers to taking away that exactly, as you said when you subtract something from an organization somebody's vested in that thing and it can appear that you're, subtracting that person.

Or whereas if you add, you can just add new stuff, Willy nilly, because then the impacts are distributed around the organization, everybody gets something So yes, first acknowledging that everybody has to get stretched thinner take on that addition. There are barriers to subtracting beyond just thinking of it.

I would say that here, maybe we take a, cue from Marie Kondo, so she's the tidying guru. I didn't know who she was until, I knew who she was. I didn't had, wasn't like deeply immersed in her work until I started doing this research. And then it was like the second or third question in every talk that I gave.

It was like, whoa, this is like Marie Kondo. And she's not a scientist of course, and she doesn't pretend to be, but she's derived some pretty scientifically sound methods. And so what she does in her tidying is, basically get rid of everything that doesn't spark joy. And so she's ruthlessly focused on the joy of the end state.

Plus she really helps people think about the end state, not the specific things that you're going to be subtracting. So she paints this picture of, okay, here's your tidy living space. And the things that you're getting rid of are in service of that vision. that's helpful and it is easy when you're subtracting things to get hung up on the individual subtraction and be like, oh, I missed that. Or that's I like that thing a little bit, but if you can help people see that yes, that's a little difficult, but the vision here is worth it. Then that can help steer people past that loss aversion really for the thing that is being subtracted.

One other systems level thing that just acknowledging that it's harder is that, to subtract from an organization or to subtract from a city, you really need to understand how the whole thing works. You can't just, be really presumptuous to come into an organization and say, oh, after five minutes you say this unit has to go.

Because you don't understand how it's contributing yet. And how the whole system is working together. And so then it becomes easier to just, you don't have to understand the organization to say, oh, let's add this new thing over here. And so I think that's a good a good feeling, a good shortcut that we use, which is okay, let's give people the benefit of the doubt who put this thing here in the first place, somebody thought about why we needed to have this department or why we needed to have this piece of infrastructure. But with more thinking and with understanding of the system, we still need to have subtraction on the table as a way to make things better.

[00:33:18] Mahan: As organizations do that, there is always the risk with subtraction, at least in the back of our minds, whether it is in medicine, there's always people recommend additional steps and no one complains about additional medications or additional tests being done or in a city or county, it would be much harder to remove a school or for a while in DC, they wanted to take out some schools that's much harder than adding schools.

So while it does require a systems level, understanding it is a lot harder for lots of different reasons to subtract than to add.

[00:34:08] Leidy: I like the medicine example. That's one. I. My sister's a doctor. And I write about her a little bit in the book about checklists and how checklists have really been transformative in medicine. And the checklist is the one that I write about is the catheter insertion checklist.

So catheter insertions are a thing that happens when you go into the hospital as part of your treatment for something else. But people were getting a lot of infections from the catheter insertions, and actually dying like almost as many people died from catheter insertion infections as from automobile accidents.

And of course there are a lot, it's a complicated thing to do. I couldn't do it, but, and there's a lot that goes into it. There are these manuals on how to insert catheters, but the thing that was really helpful in reducing the incidents of the deaths from catheter insertion infections was a simple checklist, which helped people focus on five critical steps to making a clean catheter insertion. And they're relatively simple things. That was in the book, but I was surprised all the doctors came up to me. And I've had some discussions for examples, like we are so additive that like even the up star shot of that catheter, insertion becoming popularized.

And it was popularized way before my book, but the upshot of that was that they had so many checklists now that they weren't paying attention to checklists. It's oh my gosh, here's the 10th checklist that I've had to check in the last hour, And so they're like, please no more checklist suggestions. And the medications, that's a really good example too. It's like people are on cocktails of medications. And the easiest thing for the doctor to do is to and I say easiest I don't mean this in a demeaning way. I mean, it, in a, like they have trying to treat patients in the fastest way possible so they can treat other patients.

The easiest thing to do is to just say, okay, this is all the stuff you're taking. What's the thing that I can add to the cocktail that is gonna make you feel better when it in there. It's a lot more work to than look, to look at the whole cocktail and be like, oh, in fact, you only need three of these drugs. And two of them might actually be contributing to the issue. Yeah, there's certainly a lot of complex systems examples in medicine.

[00:36:20] Mahan: That's why as I read your book, one of the things that enabled me to do is to see more of these things in these systems all around me. And in the conversations with clients. So the first step is to become aware of the additive nature of our decision making and how we keep adding and look for those opportunities for subtraction. So just the awareness of it is really important. 

The other thing that I really noticed, I'm a big advocate for objectives and key results. John Doer popularize them based on Andy Grove's work measuring what matters, what I find in a lot of organizations I work with Leidy is that there are metrics and the metrics always have to go up even when they measure things that don't matter.

And some of the organizations I've been involved with including one I love I served as board chair leadership, greater Washington. We always want to see the number of events in green, meaning going up, doing more and more events rather than at times looking at, should we do less and will there be more effectiveness of the purpose and what we are trying to do with fewer?

So I find metrics also get in the way of tapping into the science of less.

[00:37:45] Leidy: Yeah, I agree. love that example, the dashboard, cuz it's so true, right? It's like even the colors we use red is I think has this like negative connotation with it and it's so it's this thing could very well be a good thing that's happening and it's there. It is in red. That looks horrible.

When, and I'm in academia and we have our like annual reporting. All metricized and not around. Yeah, it's kind of aligned with creating and sharing knowledge. So it's like research and then teaching, but the research measures are like, okay, how many publications and there's not a real it's nothing about the quality.

And also a funny metric that we have that is like, how many research dollars did you bring in? And I think It's funny because isn't the more successful thing the bringing in, doing great work with no input of money, it's like it didn't even take any resources to do this, but so often it's okay, this person spent a ton of money and received a ton of money and isn't that a good measure.

And again, oftentimes that is in fact, the most productive person, but it's like really knowing what your north star is, and then lining things up with it. This is a good organizational example that fits here. Bob Sutton, who wrote the no asshole rule. He's also working on a book on organizational friction, and he's just really smart and nice guy.

 He told me about this Stanford case study that they did of AstraZeneca. And you can, it's free on the internet. You can find it and what happened at AstraZeneca, they said, look, we really care. Our north star is research and we've got 60,000 employees. We are hereby empowering you employees to think of things that are distracting you from research and suggest ways to get rid of them. And they estimated that they saved their goal was a million hours. I think they got closer to 2 million hours of time saved. I think annually this is time saved, but imagine the value of a 2 million hour investment in research at AstraZeneca.

There's no grant that could pay for that. And they did that by empowering people to take away at all throughout their organization. So I thought that was a really neat organizational example of how this could be put into place.

[00:40:04] Mahan: Tapping into that power of less enables the organization to more effectively achieve its purpose. It is not less in order to do less, it's less in order to more effectively achieve the purpose of the organization and the objective of the individual if that might be the case. 

Now I wonder on the other side of it, Leidy is there a point where less is too much less in that I think about the fact that I worked for many years for the Carnegie organization, how to win friends and influence people still sells tons of copies, great book, but if you summarize it, it ends up being pretty simplistic principles, smile share appreciation with others or even your book, which I think is really powerful and people should read it. 

But if they just look at, a one line or two line summary of it as Okay think about less. Sounds good. Good for you. So at what point is subtraction is too much and takes away from the power of the original idea.

[00:41:13] Leidy: That would be an amazing thing if that eventually happened, because I think that would mean we were considering it equally. It's like there weren't these cases where we weren't thinking of it and we weren't missing out on this fundamental way to make change, but we're not even close to being there yet. Any experimental data and anybody who's honest with themselves, as they look around the world, we are not even close. Of course there are individual subtraction that we shouldn't do. It's not always the right thing, the right change to make.

But in terms of considering this as a complimentary approach to making change, we've got a long way to go before it's advised. The flip side of this , is the more people that overlook something, the more people that are missing out on something that's a better market opportunity for the people who can figure out how to do it.

 And so the organizations that are able to focus in on their north star and are able to say, okay, look, we're gonna get rid of empower our employees to get rid of these redundant things. They have a huge advantage because so many other people are continuing to add. So I guess my view is we're not close to this being played out and also that the longer this imbalance stays or the more the imbalance is the better the benefits are for the people who can exploit it.

[00:42:29] Mahan: It's a constant struggle to even maintain a certain level of focus on less, which is a challenge in all of our lives and in all of the organizational decision making. In the asking for your leadership resources or practices Leidy I would like to ask it slightly differently in that we live in an extremely noisy world with a lot of noise, very little signal. What do you do? Or what resources do you count on to get more signal and less noise?

[00:43:05] Leidy: I'll tell you what I do, and then offer a resource that I found really helpful that I came to after doing some of these things. But for me, it's a lot about like, being regimented with my time. And I'm not checking texts or emails between. For this three hour block that I consider, like my writing and thinking time.

 And then I'll do my best to get those distracting things out of the way. And then also be regimented with my intake of information. So I'm gonna listen to this podcast, or I'm gonna read two chapters of this book, and then I'm also gonna make sure that I have time to walk around so that I can process these thoughts.

 So I'm pretty deliberate with how I lay out my days to make sure that the noise isn't crowding out the signal. There's an awesome book called the extended mind by Annie Paul in the thesis of the book, which I think is right, is that we often think of thinking as just like happening in our brain, but the extended mind, the notion is that look thinking is shaped by what's going on in our brain, but then also our interactions with other people and by the environment around us. And so we can be intentional. In those ways. And so me turning off my cell phone is an example of shaping my environment, but so is like me going to my office for a certain type of work, or me walking around in the woods for thinking work.

And that book has just really shown me and reaffirmed my own commitment to let's pay attention to the different ways that we can learn and the different ways that we can take in information and process information. And that's been helpful for me.

[00:44:47] Mahan: Outstanding. Now, Leidy how can the audience find out more about you and your book the Untapped Science of Less, in addition to Amazon.

[00:44:59] Leidy: My parents gave me a good Google name. So L E I D Y K L O T Z. And you can get to my website. The book really is the main thing. I mean, that's my best thinking on this topic. But there are also some other things of, what I've been up to and I write in different places too.

 And then I'm on Twitter. So I'm figuring out slowly how to use that. If you tweet at me, I will certainly engage but I'm not sitting there putting out a stream of new insights every hour. So don't expect that

[00:45:31] Mahan: I respect people that can do that, but I know you also quoted Cal Newport. Who's a professor at my be love Georgetown. One of the things I learned was, to take off all of those notifications and spend specific portions of time on these different things. So I control my technology use and the technology use doesn't control me.

[00:45:55] Leidy: I learned that from him too. Yeah, that's great.

[00:45:59] Mahan: Leidy, I know you mentioned that you'd listened to my conversation with Sarah Stein Greenberg also, your book like hers has enabled me to see the world. Through different eyes and perspectives and see which is why I really appreciate it.

And as I have conversations, it brings value to the clients, to organizational leaders, but it also helps me continually uncover what I can do, what organizations I'm involved with can do by tapping into the power of less.

It is not add or subtract. It's add and subtract. , and I love the quote you have from Laozi "to attain knowledge, add things every day to attain wisdom, remove things every day." Thank you for teaching us the framework of how we can attain wisdom. Thank you so much. Leidy Klotz

[00:46:57] Leidy: Thanks Mahan this was terrific.