PICA #091

Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964.


A Collaborative Creativity exercise that helps participants focus on the opportunities of destruction.

More, more, more and more. When attempting to innovate, it is a common, almost automatic reaction to add something. Subverting this default approach is a great way to inspire different thinking sometimes the most radical act is to eliminate - subtract, not add.

In the Collaborative Creativity section of this website, I have added a description of exercises that focus on subtraction. As always, every exercise must be specifically devised for the situation you are confronting. The general idea is to look at the existing scenario and see how much you can throw away before the situation completely breaks down. The focus of the exercise could be a specific product or service, an entire portfolio of offerings, the market in its entirety or a competitor’s product/service.

Sometimes you will expect subtraction to produce practical options, on other occasions it might be useful to remind a group of what is valuable and indispensable (familiarity breeds contempt). An exercise that uses a Subtrakt approach can instil a minimalist mindset in a group right from the beginning of a session or can be used at the end to immediately test ideas created in the session itself (potentially improving, by decluttering).

Picasso famously said: "Every act of creation is first an act of destruction." If you want to innovate, you have to accept some level of destruction. Startups have an obvious advantage. Established companies with all kinds of legacies often struggle with idea of killing their own creations. From transforming an industry to simplifying an existing offering - the act of subtraction can mean a light pruning or a radical demolition.

Either as a serious exercise in eliminating complexity or as a mind game that is useful preparation for a different objective, identifying the existing untouchables and imagining what it would be like to eliminate them can be extremely liberating. Airbnb is the hospitality business from which the ownership of hotels has been subtracted. If you would like to see what your business could become or what someone else might make of it, try subtraction.