Less With Far Less

We don’t know the question, but the answer is innovation. And with innovation it’s more, more, more. Whether it’s more with less, or a lot more with a little more, it’s always more. It’s bigger, faster, stronger, or bust.  It’s an enhancement of what is, or an extrapolation of what we have. Or it’s the best of product one added to product two. But it’s always more.

More-on-more makes radical shifts hard because with more-on-more we hold onto all functionality then add features, or we retain all features then multiply output. This makes it hard to let go of constraints, both the fundamental ones – which we don’t even see as constraints because they masquerade as design rules – and the little-known second class constraints – which we can see, but don’t recognize their power to block first class improvements. (Second class constraints are baggage that come with tangential features which stop us from jumping onto new S-curves for the first class stuff.)

To break the unhealthy cycle of more-on-more addition, think subtraction. Take out features and function. Distill to the essence. Decree guilty until proven innocent, and make your marketers justify the addition of every feature and function. Starting from ground zero, ask your marketers, “If the product does just one thing, what should it do?” Write it down as input to the next step.

Next, instead of more-on-more multiplication, think division. Divide by ten the minimum output of your smallest product. (The intent it to rip your engineers and marketers out of the rut that is your core product line.) With this fractional output, ask what other technologies can enable the functionality? Look down. Look to little technologies, technologies that you could have never considered at full output. Congratulations. You’ve started on your migration toward with less-with-far-less.

On the surface, less-with-far-less doesn’t seem like a big deal. And at first, folks roll their eyes at the idea of taking out features and de-rating output by ten. But its magic is real. When product performance is clipped, constraints fall by the wayside. And when the product must do far less and constraints are dismissed, engineers are pushed away from known technologies toward the unfamiliar and unreasonable. These unfamiliar technologies are unreasonably small and enable functionality with far less real estate and far less inefficiency. The result is radically reduced cost, size, and weight.

Less-with-far-less enables cost reductions so radical, new markets become viable; it makes possible size and weight reductions so radical, new levels of portability open unimaginable markets; it facilitates power reductions so radical, new solar technologies become viable.

The half-life of constraints is long, and the magic from less-with-far-less builds slowly. Before they can let go of what was, engineers must marinate in the notion of less. But when the first connections are made, a cascade of ideas follow and things spin wonderfully out of control. It becomes a frenzy of ideas so exciting, the problem becomes cooling their jets without dampening their spirit.

Less-with-far-less is not dumbed-down work – engineers are pushed to solve new problems with new technologies. Thermal problems are more severe, dimensional variation must be better controlled, and failure modes are new. In fact, less-with-far-less creates steeper learning curves and demands higher-end technologies and even adolescent technologies.

Our thinking, in the form of constraints, limits our thinking. Less-with-far-less creates the scarcity that forces us to abandon our constraints. Less-with-far-less declares our existing technologies unviable and demands new thinking. And I think that’s just what we need.

3 Responses to “Less With Far Less”

  • Doug Hoover:

    This one is an exception Mike. I forward some of your best (in my opinion) columns on to a select few in engineering. This one went immediately to the product managers.

    I can imagine it now. Low cost, portable, reliable personal or home use medical monitoring devices. So easy to use and so interconnected with the newly emerging national Electronic Medical Records system that it reduces or eliminates follow up visits just to see how the patient is doing. This would allow the professionals more time to treat new patients, rather than trying to get existing patients back to the office and fit in to a busy schedule just for routine follow up monitoring. AND it could improve treatments for many if not all patients requiring variable dosage medication or other therapy or treatment based on monitored results. At the very least it would save patients (and insurance companies) money spent on Dr. visits, personal travel, excessive time in crowded waiting rooms, and time lost from gainful pursuits.

    All that’s needed are open minds and people (in the right positions) with a vision of what could be.

    Thanks for another gem Mike;

  • Mike:

    Thanks, Doug. That’s why I write. Mike

  • […] Companies offer more-with-less for as long as they can; and when there’s nothing left they offer more-with-more. It would be better to offer less-with-far-less. […]

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