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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 210

Leidy Klotz on doing more with less, based on his book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less

Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less (book cover)

We pile on “to-dos” but don’t consider “stop-doings.” We create incentives for good behavior, but don’t get rid of obstacles to it. We collect new-and-improved ideas, but don’t prune the outdated ones. Every day, across challenges big and small, we neglect a basic way to make things better: we don’t subtract.

Leidy Klotz’s pioneering research shows why. Whether we’re building Lego® models or cities, grilled-cheese sandwiches or strategic plans, our minds tend to add before taking away. Even when we do think of it, subtraction can be harder to pull off because an array of biological, cultural, and economic forces push us towards more. But we have a choice — our blind spot need not go on taking its toll on our cities, our institutions, and our minds. By diagnosing our neglect of subtraction, we can treat it.

Subtract will change how you change your world. In these pages you’ll meet subtracting exemplars: design geniuses, Nobel Prize-winners, rock-stars, and everyday heroes, who have subtracted to dismantle racism, advance knowledge, heal the planet, and even tell better jokes. These and more guiding lights show how we can revolutionize not just our day-to-day lives, but our collective legacy. More or less. A paradigm shift of a book, Subtract shows us how to find more of the options we’ve been missing — and empowers us to pursue them.

Leidy Klotz is the Copenhaver Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, where he is appointed in the Schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Business. He co-founded and co-directs the university’s Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative, which engages and supports applied, interdisciplinary research. Klotz earned a highly-selective CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, one of the NSF’s first awards through its INSPIRE program, and over $7 million in competitive research funding. He advises influential decision-makers that straddle academia and practice, working with the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, the National Institutes of Health, Resources for the Future, ideas42, and Nature Sustainability. A columnist for the Behavioral Scientist, Klotz has written for venues such as Science, Nature, Fast Company, and The Daily Climate.

Shermer and Klotz discuss:

  • how one studies behavioral subtraction,
  • experimental evidence that people add to solve problems, not subtract,
  • evolutionary reasons why we tend to add rather than subtract to our lives and environment,
  • evonomics,
  • loss aversion, endowment effect, sunk-cost fallacy,
  • history of civilization: isn’t this an example of addition, not subtraction?
  • Göbekli Tepe and the role of monumental architecture,
  • climate change: add or subtract to solve the problem?
  • racial issues/BLM/antiracism: add or subtract to solve the problem?
  • examples of subtraction:

    • Vietnam War Memorial,
    • Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco,
    • corporate structures,
    • Feynman diagrams.
  • improving your personal life through subtraction.

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This episode was released on September 18, 2021.

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