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A little less can mean a whole lot more

04. 23. 21

I’ve written about a lot of different creative artists over the years.

Looking back, I think I’ve used this mostly as a way to channel my thinking on what these artists teach us – no matter how big or small we are, no matter what we do.

  • I’ve written about David Bowie and his constant innovation and reinvention.
  • The Stones’ recording of Gimme Shelter is, to me, a lesson in always striving to be better…  even when you’re already among the very best.
  • I was drawn to Howard Stern’s obsession with staying curious – and how that makes him one of the best interviewers on our planet.
  • I appreciated Sean Connery (after his death last Fall) for how the smaller moments can sometimes create the biggest impact.
  • One of my favourite topics was Bob Dylan’s boldness in “going electric” in 1965, sparking outrage among some of his fans, but also rocketing him to a whole new stardom.  Dylan “zigged” when all the other folkies were zagging.

Each of these artists has taught me something.  And now I’ve got another lesson to add to the list.

It comes from the silkiest, smoothest voice I’ve heard – one that often plays in my office.

It’s Frank Sinatra.  

The ‘Chairman of the Board’ came to mind recently when I stumbled on something called the ‘paradox of creativity’, which states:

  • “You’ll know your work is truly done when it looks so simple that the consumer thinks they could have done it themselves which means they won’t ever truly appreciate how hard you worked.  Always remember that ‘elegance’ is the end result of hard work, not the starting point.”

And that elegance is what defines Sinatra to me.

There’s nothing splashy, no outrageous stage presence, no tricks.  There was never any real “wow” moments with Sinatra.  Just a whole lot of elegance wrapped up in a smooth voice that sounded effortless.  Like anyone could sing like him.

Except no one ever did.   (Here’s Fly Me To The Moon.)

Sinatra’s elegance points us to the lesson of ‘less is more.’

French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of The Little Prince) once wrote, “Perfection isn’t when there’s more to add… rather, when there’s no more to take away.”

And it’s the “taking away” part that’s most difficult, no?  Concrete examples of ‘less is more’ may be few and far between, but they’re still out there.

Two have come to mind for me recently:

  • The smoothness of Amazon’s ordering process.  A month ago, Joe the dog chewed through his leash on one of our morning walks.  Before I’d even entered the house I’d already used my phone to order the identical leash on Amazon – three fast clicks, maybe 30-40 seconds total, and a quick confirmation that the replacement would be here the next day.  It seems effortless what Amazon does – but it’s not.
  • Two weekends ago, I soaked up The Masters like I do every year.  I also followed along on its super slick app – one that updated me on news and scores, and also let me easily track all of the players in my pool (even view video of their most recent tee shot, practically in real time).  I found myself staring at my phone, wondering WHAT? How do they do that?  What the techies at Augusta pull off looks effortless, but of course it’s not.  It’s hard work.

Amazon and Augusta both succeed in delivering something that’s simple, useful, and at the same time appears effortless.  It’s obvious from their designs that they make tough decisions on what to leave in and what to keep out.  ‘Less is more’ thinking demands that level of thoughtfulness, precision and care.

What does this mean for us?  Any number of things, but particularly:

  • A challenge to stay laser focused on the essence of what we do for those we serve.
  • Using simpler language that makes it crystal clear on how we help.
  • A website that’s easy – even joyful – to use.  (Amazon and The Masters nail this.)
  • And especially asking ourselves this question:  is what we’re “adding” (whether it’s more messaging, procedures, steps, choices, features, options) really making things better for our customer… or worse?

Sinatra didn’t add much to his combination of a rich baritone voice and an elegant look on stage.  He didn’t have to.  Those two things were enough.

Less turned out to be a whole lot more.

And he made it look effortless.

So ask yourself:

  1. What can you take away in order to deliver more?
  2. How can what you do seem so effortless… that anyone thinks they could do it?