Different pwerspectuves on the Power of Elimination


Many years ago during an interview, Katherine Hepburn was asked the secret to the success of her career. “Elimination! I have eliminated everyone and everything from my life that interferes with what I want to do and how I want to do it. Even Luddie [Ludlow Ogden Smith], my former husband and dearest friend still. He simply had to go!”

Years later, I came upon Albert Einstein’s observation, “Make everything as simple as possible…but no simpler,” then an observation by Peter Drucker, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all,” and still another by Michael Porter, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

These and other insights help to explain why elimination can have great power if (huge “if”) combined with sound judgment and sufficient information.

In business, for example, “downsizing” should really be viewed as “rightsizing.” Smart executives may eliminate or reduce but are well-advised to make additions and increases wherever needed.

One of my favorite anecdotes from the arts world involves a French Romantic poet (I think it was Baudelaire but I’m not certain) who was once asked. “How to write a poem?” After a lengthy pause for reflection, he replied, “First draw a birdcage and leave the door open. Then wait and wait and wait. Eventually, maybe, a bird will fly in. Then erase the cage.”

About 20 years ago, a severe frost was predicted here in Dallas. My wife said we had to trim back all the crepe myrtles or they would die. We cut them back almost to ground level. I feared that we had decapitated them. On the contrary, they were among the few smaller trees and bushes in our neighborhood that survived several days of sub-freezing temperatures.

Here’s another personal note. Years ago before my family and I moved from Connecticut to Rhode Island, a grizzled New Englander from United Van Lines came by the house to estimate the costs of packing and shipping our belongings. Then he met with us to discuss the situation. “With all due respect, m’am, please remember that crap here will be crap there.”

I think it is important to keep in mind that the power of elimination can have both positive and negative impact. Again, I stress the importance of sound judgment in combination with sufficient information. As Jason Jennings suggests, “If it’s DOA, bury it.” Fair enough. However, invoking a gardening metaphor, let’s also be careful not to rip out seedlings just to see how well they are growing.

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