Creativity: Start by Subtracting

By Shlomo Maital    


    Why is the technology we use daily so complicated? 

    One reason:  Innovators are very smart, usually engineers, and their mandate is to “add wrinkles” to existing stuff.  Most of the software features we have are unused and unuseful. 

     There is a better way.  Subtract, rather than add.  Start by removing the superfluous, to make room for the new, rather than stuff more and more new things in. 

     For example:  Technion Mechanical Engineering Prof. Moshe Shoham, along with Prof. David Greenblatt, have invented a radically new solution to the face-mask problem.  The invention began by asking, can we design a face mask, without the uncomfortable mask?  Subtraction.  Answer:  Create an invisible ‘air screen’ in front of the person’s face, originating from a lightweight filter-covered unit mounted on the visor of a cap. (Described in today’s Jerusalem Post, p. 1.). 

     Shoham is an amazing serial inventor.  His Mazor startup subtracted surgeon’s hands from complex back surgery, through a robotic surgeon.  Surgery without the surgeon. (There is a surgeon…but the delicate placement of screws in the back is done by the robot). 

    The ‘subtract’, don’t add, principle —   or, ‘less is more’ – applies to our lives as well.  I asked this question in 2001:  What can I STOP doing, that would be productive?  Answer:  Take early retirement.  Subtract the immense busy-work that professors have to do.  Since then, I’ve had the time to focus on much more useful things that bring much happiness. 

      So reader: What could you, should you, stop doing, in your life, that is both feasible and would make you happier and more productive?  What can you subtract?  Inertia results in more and more things being added.  It takes an act of will to subtract.  But it can be transformative.