Less Is More

3 02 2013

Less Is MoreOne of the most fascinating books I’ve read over the past ten years or so is Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney.  In this book, the author unpacks some of the keys to the design and marketing philosophy of Steve Jobs and Apple.  Some of the chapter titles are provocative (Focus: How Saying “No” Saved Apple; Elitism: Hire Only A Players, Fire the Bozos).

Jobs was leery of trying to do too many things with Apple.  In fact, when he took over Apple again in 1997 after a twelve year absence, he slashed and mothballed a lot of projects in the works.  Apple was in deep trouble financially.  He made the decision to focus on a few key products and make them superior to anything in the market.

One of the gnats he had to dispense with early on in his second tour with Apple was feature creep.  “Feature creep” is the IT design practice of creating all sorts of bells and whistles for any new piece of technology, thus increasing the product’s versatility and, therefore, sales.

Steve Jobs had no patience for feature creep.

This impatience was an outgrowth of his Zen minimalism which, in design terms, meant making technology as simple and user-friendly as possible.  So he and his colleagues worked painstakingly to do a few signature Apple devices extremely well.  As Jobs’ famous mantra says, “Focus means saying no.”

In the summer of 2011, Apple passed Exxon Mobil as the most profitable corporation in our country.  Jobs really knew what he was doing.

As a musician, it’s taken me quite a few years to learn that less is more.  Young musicians tend to want to overplay, to “express themselves,” to get everything possible out on their instruments.  Over many years, however, I’ve learned that the spaces between the notes I play are as important, sometimes more, as the notes themselves.  Or, as Dan Fogelberg said as a young studio musician, “I learned that it’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play.”

What have you been given?  What do you do well?  What can you pare down or eliminate to simplify and focus, bringing your contributions to a higher level of excellence? Some suggestions:

  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.  All fascinating platforms but they tend to eat time the way SUV’s suck gas.  Limit your involvements–and unnecessary participation in the drama of others, something you really don’t have energy and patience for anyway.
  • News media: Consider some other outlet to get your news than the Big 5.  BBC or NPR are good places to start.  Again, do you really need five different viewpoints on a story?
  • Pour the extra time and effort thus gained from limiting your involvements in pointless, time-wasting pursuits into honing skills in your vocation and your avocations.  As the song from the Franco Zeffirelli film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1971) says, “Do few things, but do them well.”

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3 responses

3 02 2013
Jennifer Stuart

There was a Ray Bradbury quote I really liked that went something like, “The artist knows what to leave out,” and this really rekindles the importance of that to me. I can easily get sucked into things and the whole aspect of how much time those social sites took up was really deafening to my soul. Now I feel that I have more of a balance, I can generally tell by looking at the title and intro of a blog post whether or not it’s worth my time to read it, and I can enjoy a lot of things in life and then bring them to my music and writing. Soundcloud has been great for that, but again, only with a close eye on how much time is being spent passively absorbing and how much time is spent living and cultivating a richness of experience that leads to an engaging life. Great post, I liked it, keep ’em comin’! 🙂

6 02 2013
Christian Fahey

Thank you, Jennifer. I know that the various manifestations of clutter in our lives (possessions, involvements, thinking, etc.) tend to bring a LOT of unnecessary stress. Trying to really nail this down in my own life. Thanks for reading!

4 02 2014
more followers on soundcloud

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