Subtraction: The Simplest, Most Common Path to Innovation There Is


It’s something we all do on a daily basis and have accepted as a given in most situations. Mostly, waiting is a hassle and inconvenience when our expectations of “waiting” are not met, and a pleasant surprise when they are exceeded.

Waiting should be eliminated if it were up to us, but that is wishful thinking. Still, we can do things to make waiting less of a hassle and more of surprise.

Let me give you an example of how painful and absurd waiting can become…

This morning I went to the bank to request an ATM card for my business in Mexico. The bank said it will take two weeks for it to arrive, and that it will come in two packages, both arriving at different dates; the ATM and the pin number.

This is ridiculous! Why do I have to wait so much time for an ATM card and pin number? And why two packages arriving at different dates?

It’s absurdities like this one, givens people have accepted as normal, that hold great innovation opportunity for those willing to challenge and change them.

In his book Something Really New, author Denis J. Hauptly deconstructs the process of innovation into its most fundamental steps. First, Hauptly states, understand the reason people use a product or service. Next, lay out the steps the customer must take to get the job done. Finally, once the series of tasks from intention to outcome is understood, simply start removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process.

Too simple?

Making a Big Impact at FedEx Ground by removing steps

The best story I have, listen below, is where I directly affected outcomes on a small and large scale was when I was 18 years old while working at FedEx Ground. It’s the best story because I didn’t know any better, but my instincts drove me to experiment with what I thought could be done faster and better.

Basically, I reduced the number of steps it took a package to get from point A to point B inside the warehouse from 10 to 5; dramatically improving productivity and creating a game-changing design that could support more volume:

Subtract to innovate

Innovation is better outcomes for people. Removing steps between the user’s recognition of a need and the satiation of that desire is at the core of all innovation. It’s called process innovation, and it’s the simplest, most common path to innovation there is.

Simply put: Hassles and inconveniences are the mother of innovation, they are everywhere; and innovators prey on these to develop game-changing solutions.

Why does it matter?

Because removing hassles and inconveniences increases the likelihood that people will adopt our product or service faster than others; it’s how you win customers.

Originally published at on April 4, 2017.

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