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Adding by Subtracting

A few years ago, our Broadcast Creative Director, Nick Tauro, an improv buff, invited everyone at RK Venture to a workshop at the Box Performance Space in Albuquerque to learn some of the craft and art of improv. Headed by long-time improv artist, Heather Yeo, our class acted out different scenarios led by Yeo’s direction and guidance. Now team building field trips aren’t normally our thing, but this was different. We collaborated in creative ways that oddly mimic how we collaborate in the office. Mostly we learned how to set up our colleagues, to position them to deliver the goods with a witty punchline or simple chuckle. We took turns adding to each other’s ideas by using “and” to contribute new perspectives and story direction. In real life, we do this too. When creating campaigns, we’ll spitball and add to each other’s concepts until something good sticks. In a true collaboration, it can be hard to figure out who had the original idea.

People in general have a bias toward adding as a way to problem solve — add more rules, acquire more information, add more content, add more ingredients to the recipe. Rarely do we subtract. In the book “Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less,” author Leidy Klotz argues that instead of adding to change something, often it’s better to subtract from what’s there. Adding is the default. When people were asked to fix an uneven tower made out of Legos, most people added Legos to the structure when it was easier to remove them. When stakeholders were tasked with finding improvements for an organization, the vast majority of those improvements required adding new systems. “Subtraction neglect” is ubiquitous across all industries, including ad agencies.

For creative development, adding is necessary to find new ideas and different ways of seeing things. Just like in improv, we add to arrive at solutions we might not have thought of on our own. However, once the campaign is in its execution phase, editing is most important. Obviously, headlines need to be short. But the message itself needs to be communicated as quickly and efficiently as possible. Think of your favorite ad or TV spot. It’s not that complicated. The more we subtract from our work, the better the final product.


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