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The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

(This article is an adaptation from my speech at the preliminary round of the All Island Best Gavel Speaker Competition 2018)

I got up from my seat and took seven steps towards the door. Then it dawned upon me, “Seven steps were all it took for me to get to this door from my seat. But what if at the same walking speed, during the same time that it took me to get here, I had been shuffling seven steps in seven different directions?” By the way, isn’t that what we do with our lives all the time? Don’t we all waste time, taking seven million steps in seven million directions, ending up going nowhere, when we could have aligned all those steps to reach one beautiful goal?

I’m writing this article for you today, with a concept in my arms. A concept which could be used by anyone to make their lives feel ever so much better. That concept is Essentialism, defined as the disciplined pursuit of less.

Right now, I want all of you to imagine that you are working in a huge company, but as a low-level employee. Your boss walks in and asks you, “Can you complete this task from Project Y for me?” However, you have not finished your tasks from project X yet. What would you say?

The natural inclination for any employee is that they should not offend the boss. Hence, they just accept the task. But what you are actually doing is, you are giving away your power to choose. It is your life! You should be the one making the choices. But if you do not make the choice to choose in your life, someone else will be doing the choosing for you. Imagine what it would be like to have someone else controlling your life? But isn’t that the norm these days?

The power of choice can be very powerful. What if we couple it with the ability to discern, the ability to distinguish the vital few from the trivial many? Let us consider a famous example to demonstrate the capabilities of these two powers. We have all heard of Warren Buffet. According to him, he decided very early in his career that he would find it difficult to manage hundreds of thousands of investments. Therefore, he chose a few businesses that he was absolutely sure of and invested very heavily on them. It is said that 90% of his wealth arose from just 10 investments. Imagine! Just 10 investments and you own 90% of the wealth of the third wealthiest man on the planet?

However, there is a third factor on the journey to becoming a true essentialist. That is the ability to understand trade-offs. There are sacrifices to be made, in order to reach your goals. However, you should choose those sacrifices consciously. To illustrate this point,  let us look at one of the most successful businesses in the latter half of the twentieth century, Southwest Airlines. The management of the airline consciously decided that they would only fly to certain destinations. They made a conscious decision to ditch on flight meals. They made a conscious decision to only have an economy class. As a result, they had effectively cut operating costs by a large margin. They were left with the task of properly serving their customers, by flying to those limited destinations. As a result of their conscious cost-cutting tactics, They were able to charge a very cheap airfare. They easily beat their competitors by serving less, but serving well. The airline understood the benefits of trading out flying to all possible destinations, in favor of offering cheap but effective service to the limited destinations they agreed upon.

So my dear readers, those were three steps to set you on your way to becoming a true essentialist. Now, it is upto you to choose to make choices, distinguish the vital few from the trivial many and to understand the power of trade-offs. The choice to be an essentialist belongs to you!

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