N-1, N+1, and how I’m learning to thrive in a world of excess

Seth Godin had a post today called N-1 where he asks what would happen if you did N-1 things (i.e. eliminated one thing at a time) until you could do a world class job on what’s left.  He’s contrasting that to the philosophy of Fred Wilson’s N+1 theory which says there is always room for one more of anything. One more task, one more hobby, one more area I should master, a thousand irons in a thousand fires.  Both seem correct, but seem mutually exclusive.

These contrasting viewpoints are particularly relevant to me recently, as I’ve been working on eliminating excess distractions from my work and life. I’ve found that I have a commitment limit, over which things spin out of control and little gets done. In computer-speak, I start thrashing. The previous few years of my life largely consisted of adding more, more, more. More work, more stuff, more hassle, but unexpectedly, less value.  Now, my focus is on delegating, outsourcing or systematizing that which can be done by others or automated systems and concentrating my rather limited amount of time on what adds the most value.

Back to N-1 and N+1.  Perhaps why both seem correct is that a blended approach is best, pursuing N-1 until comfortable that I’m no longer project-thrashing, then applying N+1 to what’s left. That’s what I think Seth is saying, but this redefines N+1 as a valid, complementary strategy within the confines of N-1. In other words, instead of grazing the surface of countless projects, we deep dive into a limited number of specific areas and projects to achieve stellar results. I call this theory N±1.

2 thoughts on “N-1, N+1, and how I’m learning to thrive in a world of excess”

  1. Fascinating. I reckon you are a young man and I am happy for you that you realised this soon. The system I live in is skewed towards what you referred to as N+1. The loads just keep adding and it came to a point that I was seen as the efficient one and all thumbs were up. Soon, I realised that I was just losing myself in work while others are going about their lives, all well and good.

    Knees will buckle or other aspects of our lives will be compromised to sustain this unrelenting influx, as in N+1. This is what upper and senior managements (especially those who may not necessarily good managers or leaders) would like to draw out from their subordinates. In reality, our upwardly scaled performance will eventually plateau. Consequently, this will be perceived as us slowing down or even underperforming.

    This state of flux of throwing out, fine-tuning or delegating whilst taking on projects you know you can excel, as well as can afford to challenge yourself with, is the way to go. Afterall, you are the best person who know yourself. The way to go about it is do reflective practice regularly. In my opinion, the important thing in keeping a sustainable equilibrium in this state of flux you are advocating is the sheer knowledge of your own set of priorities in life. Once you are clear about them, your course in life is a lot less bumpy and your destination, more assured. Not preaching… just sharing with a helpful friend who also shares interest in photography. Great stuff you have here in your blog.

  2. Rashid, thanks for the comment. Arriving at a place where sustainable quality and personal satisfaction are achieved is my goal.

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