It seems to be a fairly accepted idea that in most things - business, art, conversations, food - what you omit is more important that what you include. Companies like Apple, Twitter, Google, and 37 Signals have taught us this. The steak seasoning that wins the most awards: salt. The people we love to talk with and consider our most trusted friends: the ones who talk less and listen more. The best ideas are the simplest ideas that somehow no one else thought of because it was “too simple”.
While this idea of omission trumping inclusion is becoming more accepted, it’s still not widely practiced. Companies like Apple or conversationalists like your best friend are far and few between. Why?
Because it’s easier to include than to omit, and we lack the guts and the discipline for the latter.
It’s easier to talk than to listen.
Easier to add than subtract.
Easier to do than to wait.
Space, for some reason, hurts. We’re just not comfortable with it. If there is space, we fill it. We’re like space-filling machines. To us, fullness feels right. Even if it’s not.
Fullness leads to obesity and mediocrity.
If you say everything, you’ve essentially said nothing.
If you become everything, you’ve become no one.
Fullness leaves no space for inspiration. It removes the need for innovation. So it leads to mediocrity.
Space leads to clarity and inspiration.
If you say only one thing, you’ve said it as strong as it can be said.
If you become only one thing, you’re that thing as much as anyone can be.
Space allows for inspiration, which leads to amazing discoveries, companies, and people.
If we want to become a great organization or create a great product or become great people, we have to overcome our fear of space. We have to develop a discipline to create space and protect it. This will take patience and major self-control. It might mean waiting a year before adding a feature or service. It might mean waiting until next time we talk to someone to give our advice - to sleep on it first and just listen for now. It will mean saying “no” to a lot of people who believe they know what you should do next. It’ll attract criticism and stir up anger. Many times we’ll feel like we’re missing opportunities and our fear of regret will be unbearable.
The wide road is easy - just let it all in. Never stop moving. Never stop talking. Become all things to all people. Include every feature. Become “well rounded”.
Walking the narrow road means embracing space and emptiness, not running from it. It means facing the questions about our identity that inevitably come up when busyness is no longer a distraction. This is scary and it’s painful.
But in the end our ability to allow and create space will determine the quality of our character. The unique value of our products. The health, life, and value of our organization. The level of real meaning in our relationships.
Just like everything in life that holds real value, space hurts to achieve, but in the end it’s worth the cost.