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“Dead man’s float.” Its branding could use a spruce-up. But it’s the thing every aspiring swimmer needs to know.

I learned it as a kid. When you’re swimming and you hit a wall (energetically speaking), the float gives you respite. It’s a pause — a chance to rest — recharging you for a strong finish.

As a kid I hated using it. But it made me better. Helped me, ultimately, go further faster. And isn’t that always the goal?

In today’s workplace, we’re all striving to go further faster. But we’re over-indexing on efforting, pushing, and striving. We need more time to float.

My clients all want to achieve more of something — more innovation, more engagement, more trust. And their default assumption is always, understandably, that more input = more output. More training, more frameworks, more programs.

But the math is flawed. And almost always my work involves more subtraction than addition. Because often the key to achieving more is turning something off.

Like innovation.

When leaders want more of it, their instinct, typically, is to add. They want to train their leaders on new frameworks; to host more brainstorming sessions, to hold contests. And these can all be wonderful additions.

But start by asking, first, what you might subtract. What habits, practices, and assumptions might be getting in the way? Is your culture one of…

  • Saying “no” too quickly because we already tried that?
  • Punishing a failed outcome that really was a brave and thoughtful experiment?
  • Enabling too many meetings and too much busywork that crowds out time for creativity?

These all inhibit innovation. And stripping them out will refine your foundation. Move you further faster.

Or maybe it’s trust.

This one’s coming up a lot in employee engagement scores. Employees are losing trust in their organizations, and leaders want to fix it.

Their default ideas? It’s all addition. Corporate messaging, leadership trainings, pledges of do-gooding. All fine additions. But made much more powerful after the right subtractions.

Like, has your organization been…

  • Preaching values that shine behind laminate but don’t really show up
  • Tolerating really bad behavior from leaders who drive revenue?
  • Implementing countless org changes without considering the human impacts or giving people a chance to breathe and catch up?

By subtracting the behaviors, the obstacles that are inhibiting the very thing you want to achieve, you’ll go further faster.