When Less is More


Scientists very early in their career will be introduced to the idea of Ockham’s Razor. William of Ockham was a medieval monk and natural scientist who suggested that all other things being equal, the best theory or idea is the simplest and most straightforward of all the alternatives.

Like all good ideas, it’s easy to see echoes of this in a wide number of disciplines. I’m thinking of Lean Manufacturing as pioneered by Toyota, or Jack Welch’s famous drive at GE to encourage speed, simplicity and self-confidence. Simplicity is something we also respond to on an emotional level – that’s why minimalist interior design, or Zen gardens have caught the popular imagination in these hectic times. Common sense tells us that in many situations, less really is more.

This has got me thinking though. How often do you see the training and development sector take a similar position?


How often do you hear an external consultant say... 

"I can teach you most of what you need to know in a couple of hours"

Or ask themselves outloud,

"What can we take out of our program, to make things easier to understand and implement?"


The fact is, in learning and development the values of simplicity are rarely applied to the way people are taught to lead and manage employees. And I think there is a very simply reason why this “leap” in thinking has not yet taken place.

In learning and development, conventional thinking is still, just that: conventional. It tells us that to improve leadership and management you must put more stuff in. It’s all about giving more content, more theories, more concepts, more data, moreskills, and more new ideas. Why? Because that’s what justifies the expensive price tag of the trainer, the big thud of the learners’ folders, or the plush hotel everyone convenes at to consume this learning.

This thinking also explains that feeling you often get when you’ve read a best-selling self-help or business book: ‘That was interesting, I’ve picked up 3 useful ideas, but the author could easily have passed on their ideas in a few pages – and I slightly resent being made to wade through the other 225 pages of guff…’

I think the training sector needs to have the confidence to be unconventional and believe that the value of its ideas are in their impact – not in their page count, weight or duration. The smart thinking is all about ‘what can we take out?’


I would suggest the new place to start is to work out how we remove, de-clutter, simplify and streamline our learning process

For people who have followed or even promoted conventional thinking, I admit this is truly frightening territory. Why? Because for too long, most leadership and management development courses have all been about “putting stuff in” rather than taking stuff out, and having a model based on daily rates (days which they have to fill to give customers the perception that they are getting value for money).

At Smarter Not Harder we’ve spent years analysing exactly what works, and what is essential, so that learners get the most from their time and the most meaningful learning from it. The question we are always pre-occupied with is, “what’s the least amount of time people need to spend each month to effectively lead/manage one employee?” We answer that by supplying just the learning that managers need to achieve this. It means our clients are able to lead and manage effectively in only a third of the time it normally takes & can learn to do this in hours rather than days. How many other suppliers – who all bill on a daily basis – will promote themselves this way?

We do it, because we feel we’re doing what the rest of the industry urgently needs to do. And remember, with us, ‘simple’ doesn’t mean ‘easy’ or ‘less’ or ‘lazy’ or anything that is less than satisfactory. When you give people back time, and when you enable them to operate using just the best bits of management theory, they understand that all the extraneous stuff they were consuming before just wasn’t giving them any value.

Often, less really is more and we believe we can show you just how transformative it can really be.