Like all other good idioms out there, “less is more” is perfectly able to embody a multitude of scenarios, both real and hypothetical, in just a few words. But because of its visual simplicity, we oftentimes underestimate just how impactful this phrase can be in shaping our lives. To better comprehend its true potential, we will take a more in-depth look at the meaning of this simple, yet seemingly contradicting phrase.

In the Harvard Business Review, Greg McKeown mentions a phenomenon known as the “the clarity paradox.” McKeown points to it as the main reason why so many apparently successful people and organizations do not become “very successful” – pointing to the fact that success can, in fact, stand in its own way.

Most roads to success start in pretty much the same way. When individuals have true clarity of purpose and know precisely where they are headed, they start experiencing results almost immediately. With this newly-acquired success, fresh opportunities also arise. But when this happens, people often begin to lose focus on precisely that which brought them there in the first place. In his book entitled How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins presents this paradox as one of the principal reasons for eventual failure, calling it “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

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So, how can this seductive pitfall be avoided?

It is precisely because of the multitude of new options and opportunities that so many become sidetracked from their ultimate career goal. Maintaining consistency and clarity of purpose all throughout this journey is, unsurprisingly, the surest and fastest way to achieving it. 

Talent, Market & Passion

Every new opportunity that presents itself needs to be filtered through these three criteria. Only if it passes the test, can it be considered a good opportunity that will not divert from the main path. Does this opportunity make use of your talents? Does it satisfy a significant need in the world and/or market? Is it something that you are passionate about? When the answer is “yes” to all three questions, then the opportunity is one worth taking. 

Managing Entropy

The second law of thermodynamics states that every individual system in the universe will experience total entropy if no matter or energy enters or leaves. To put it another way, things will inevitably turn from order to disorder if not properly maintained. The same thing can be said about human ideas and activities.

Over time, we form personal opinions and ideas about the world. But once in a while, a so-called “spring cleaning” is essential so as to avoid the effects of clutter-induced entropy. Investigate which past ideas are worth keeping and eliminate the rest. When it comes to activities, consider eliminating an old one before taking on something new. This way you can ensure that no unnecessary activities drag you away from your course.   

Beware of the Endowment Effect

In the field of behavioral finance, the endowment effect describes our own tendency to place more value on something we already own as opposed to something that we do not yet possess. This effect can lead us to disregard certain good opportunities simply because we are familiar and nostalgic about what we already have going for us. One way of avoiding it is to ask ourselves a simple question, as Tom Stafford wrote for BBC: “If I didn’t have this, how much effort would I put in to obtain it?” Depending on our objective answer, we will know whether to keep or eliminate this activity/idea.

Not letting ourselves become distracted by the many avenues that branch out from our own road to success is essential to actually reach our destination. We can do this by constantly reminding ourselves that less is definitely more