Idea in Brief

The Problem

Virtually all organizations are plagued by addition sickness: the unnecessary rules, procedures, communications, tools, and roles that seem to inexorably grow, stifling productivity and creativity.

The Root Cause

People default to asking, “What can I add here?” not “What can I get rid of?” Organizations reward leaders for additions—implementing new technologies, launching initiatives, building bigger fiefdoms. And leaders often have a limited grasp of their “cone of friction”—how their actions and decisions burden others.

The Remedy

Conduct a good-riddance review to identify obstacles that can and should be removed. And employ subtraction tools to eliminate those obstacles or make it difficult for people to erect them in the first place.

In August 1940, as his country prepared for waves of attacks by German planes, Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, set out to address a different enemy: lengthy reports. In his 234-word “Brevity” memo, he implored the members of his war cabinet and their staffs to “see to it that their reports are shorter.” Churchill urged them to write “short, crisp paragraphs,” to move complex arguments or statistics to appendices, and to stop using “officialese jargon.”

A version of this article appeared in the January–February 2024 issue of Harvard Business Review.