wasting bandwidth since 1999

Less is the New More

A great talk by Jason Fried of 37 Signals rose to the top of my iPod podcast cue this weekend. His brief conference presentation was aimed at business leaders but offered some great ideas for educational administrators as well.

Jason’s basic premise was that, rather than piling on assets (money, people) to create a product with every possible feature, companies could gain a competitive edge by doing less.

The majority of time you spend working is wasted time. Too many meetings, too much planning, too much thinking, too much writing official documents. The more time you have the more time you have to waste – and it’s likely you’ll waste more than you use. When you have less time, you’ll spend it more wisely.

The best way to deal with less time is to do less paper work, less busy work, less abstracted work. This means do less stuff that isn’t real. Less boxes and arrows. Less charts. Less documentation. Less stuff that is abstracted from the real thing – the real product your actual customers will see.

He also speaks very harshly of specifications documents, which sound very much like the ever popular district mission statement or “strategic” plans.

Jason notes that these documents lead to “illusions of agreement, which is everybody reads this document and everyone says they agree eventually and then you start building it and no one agrees anymore. And six months down the road when you deliver your product, it looks nothing like the original spec.”

His bottom line is that companies should develop less software. School administrators as a rule don’t develop software. But Jason’s fundamental concept still applies to many things they do do.

More attention to less stuff will make that less stuff better. 100% of your time across 20 things via 100% of your time across 10 things will result in a very strong 10 things.

The truth is this: There are a million simple problems that need to be solved before you should even consider trying to solve the complex ones.

It would be nice if the tech leaders for our overly large school district would take ten minutes to listen to Fried’s ideas. Especially the group working to develop a web “portal” (and isn’t that a concept from the last century?) that’s supposed to be everything to everybody.

less is more, jason fried


  1. Mark Scardiglia

    OK, it made sense. I would hold off on the use of the word “great”, however. Ironically enough, his approach is a really detailed version of “keep it simple, stupid”.

  2. tim

    But people don’t seem to learn the lesson of “keep it simple, stupid”, which requires someone to repeat it every so often. And the larger the bureaucracy, the more frequently the message needs to be repeated.

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