The saying "Less is more" is a phrase adopted by and attributed to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1947.
But if we truly believed that less is more, why do we overdo so much?
Why do we so rarely look at a situation, object, idea or a concept that needs improving [in all contexts] and consider removing something as a solution?
do our brains miss opportunities to improve through subtraction?
Why do we nearly always add something, regardless of whether it helps or
Why do our brains miss opportunities to improve through subtraction?
A new study, featured on the cover of Nature, in which researchers at University of Virginia explain the human tendency to make change through addition, explains why.
"It happens in engineering design, which is my main interest," said Leidy Klotz, Copenhaver Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment. "But it also happens in writing, cooking and everything else -- just think about your own work and you will see it"
Klotz collaborated with three colleagues from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on the interdisciplinary research that shows just how additive we are by nature.
Batten public policy and psychology faculty, assistant professor Gabrielle Adams and associate professor Benjamin Converse, and former Batten postdoctoral fellow Andrew Hales, worked with Klotz on a series of observational studies and experiments to study the phenomenon.
There are two broad possibilities for why people systematically default to additive solutions:
 We generate ideas for both possibilities and disproportionately discard subtractive solutions, or
 We overlook subtractive ideas altogether
We overlook subtractive solutions because they require more effort
The research focused on the second possibility.
"Additive ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort," associate professor Benjamin Converse said.
"Because people are often moving fast and working with the first ideas that come to mind, they end up accepting additive solutions without considering subtraction at all."
The researchers think there may be a self-reinforcing effect.
"The more often people rely on additive strategies, the more cognitively accessible they become," assistant professor Gabrielle Adams said.
"Over time, the habit of looking for additive ideas may get stronger and stronger, and in the long run, we end up missing out on many opportunities to improve the world by subtraction."
How to reduce your subtraction bias?
[This process can be adapted to different and non-commercial environments]:
Return from "Less Is More" to: Mental Models