"Less is more." the phrase is cliché--but behind the trite, there's truth. In his book In Pursuit of Elegance, business consultant Matthew May details why we engage more intimately with ideas and objects that are simpler and then shows how organizations--from HR departments to police forces--put that concept to use.
May's approach is to start with the science. An examination of curiosity, for example, begins in 1890 with psychologist William James, winds through research conducted in the 1950s and '90s and then wraps up with a modern-day application: selling more digital cameras. Three ads for the new Sony QV are set in front of consumers. The first gives details galore, the second simply mentions that the QV is a camera, and the third reveals nothing more than that a new Sony product is on its way. The ad that generates twice as much interest as the other two: the middle one. Specifics draw people in, but give too many and they turn their attention elsewhere.
May also digs into how better public policy might be forged from less--not more--government action. Consider the city of Drachten in the Netherlands. The busiest intersection is a simple round-about, with no stoplights, signs or even white lines on the pavement. The thing Dutch traffic engineers understood: signs and lights give people a mental out from paying attention to what's going on around them. Force drivers to take more responsibility for deciding who goes in front of whom and when, and the number of accidents drops.
That sort of thinking, though, is counterintuitive. Not adding a new feature to a product, not creating a new rule to elicit a desired behavior--these notions rub against the Western sensibility. "A bias for action naturally leads us to want to do something," writes May. Which often leads us away from simplicity. Less may be more, but that doesn't mean it's easy.