Subtract | Leidy Klotz

Summary of: Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less
By: Leidy Klotz


Discover the power of ‘less’ in this summary of ‘Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less’ by Leidy Klotz. Learn how subtraction can be a driving force for positive change, as well as why it is often overlooked in our lives. Explore the mental and cultural factors behind our tendency to add rather than subtract, and how taking a step back can lead us to innovative solutions and a better understanding of the world around us. Get ready to uncover the value of evaluating what we can remove in order to improve different aspects of our lives, from personal growth to addressing systemic issues.

The Power of Subtraction

The book highlights that subtraction is an overlooked force for change through the experience of Sue Bierman and the citizens of San Francisco. Although subtracting the double-decker freeway blocking the waterfront was a sound proposal, San Franciscans voted to keep it until the Loma Prieta earthquake forced them to remove it. The key message is that subtraction can lead to positive change. The Embarcadero waterfront, which now occupies the space the freeway used to cover, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in America. However, people tend to focus on adding rather than subtracting when trying to improve things. Most of us struggle to think positively about subtraction. The book encourages readers to consider the benefits of subtraction in personal and global contexts, such as reducing clutter in our homes and tackling climate change. The book also explores why people fail to subtract, providing insights on how to overcome this mindset.

The Power of Subtraction

The author of the book explores the idea that human beings tend to add rather than subtract, and subtracting is less mentally accessible than adding. He uses various experiments to prove his theory, showing that people have a natural tendency to add more notes to music, ingredients to recipes, and activities to travel itineraries. This phenomenon is not because of personal preference but rather mental accessibility, and it explains why some ideas seem more obvious to us than others. The author also discovered that when participants were reminded that subtraction was an option, significantly more of them took things away. This book teaches us how to embrace subtraction and the power that comes with it, showing that sometimes less is more.

The Bias Towards Addition

Humans tend to overlook subtraction and prefer addition. The book ‘Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less’ highlights that adding makes us feel competent and happy. Male bowerbirds add sticks, leaves, and colorful objects to their nests to demonstrate competence to potential mates. Although choosing to subtract can also be competent, it is harder to demonstrate. Our brains evolved to react positively to acquisition because for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, acquiring anything meant survival. This means that adding feels good.

The Inception of Civilization

A fascinating archaeological discovery at an ancient temple in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe has shown that adding and cooperation have been crucial in shaping human civilization. The temple, an early example of monumental architecture, predates nearby human settlements, and its construction brought together multiple bands of hunter-gatherers, who eventually became settled farmers. The desire to add and create something superfluous, in the form of the temple, led these groups to work cooperatively, pursue agriculture and settle in larger groups. The preference for adding, evident in the monumental architecture, was the catalyst for the development of human civilization, making it humanity’s oldest cultural heritage.

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