Minimalism is a philosophy that has immense practical value in managing organizations. Though it’s an ethos that’s used a lot in such disciplines as fashion and architecture, for some reason it hasn’t found the resonance it deserves in business.
Here, we look at what exactly minimalism means, how it differs from austerity, and the different elements that could be found under minimalism as a business philosophy.
Minimalism is like choosing exactly the right no: of notes for a beautiful song and not spoiling it with anything more
How Minimalism differs from Austerity
It’s not uncommon to see people confusing minimalism with austerity. Though on the surface the two concepts may seem similar, they couldn’t be any more different in actuality.
Austerity can be considered as a measure you adopt in times of financial crisis. You cut down costs in every ways that you could- lopping off anything that’s deemed ‘unnecessary’ from the budget. Typically, these austerity measures are by definition temporary, meant to help an organization survive ‘hard times.” But once you get over that rough patch, you could drop those measures like throwing away torn clothes after use.
Minimalism, on the other hand is a life philosophy, a way of living that you follow which is largely detached from externalities. In other words, just because you have come across financial riches, you wouldn’t drop minimalism.
Digging deeper into Minimalism
Minimalism is adopting the optimal amount of materials and resources to perform a task. It is not cutting down on resources as much as you can in the name of cost cutting. As mentioned before, such a strategy is an austerity measure and should not be confused with minimalism.
To use an example, let’s consider that you have a scooter- a two wheeler- with quite a lot of embellishments like extra carrier bags on either side and a radio reception antenna rising up from a handle. Now, let’s assume that you have to travel for two kilometers on this scooter to reach a particular place from your home.
By minimalistic philosophy, you would probably take off one of the two carrier bags from the bikes since only one is actually required. And you would definitely take off that antenna from the handle because it serves no practical purpose(No, there is no radio player in the scooter.)
And that’s about it- you are now good to go.
But with the austerity principle- you would take off both the bags and the antenna, and replace the scooter’s wheels with cheaper ones. In fact, you may even end up trading the scooter for a bicycle because technically they are both two wheelers that you could take short rides on, and a bicycle is more cost effective to boot!
The elements in Minimalism as a business philosophy
Going by the idea of ‘optimal volume of resources’ which is the core of minimalism, how does the philosophy function in an organizational context? In terms of management philosophy, what are the elements that you should focus on?
Here, we find answers.
A strong vision for the destination and direction in which you wish to take your business is one of the biggest assets a leader could have.
On an individual front, there is True Personal Vision- the vision that could be found only within yourself, that’s innate to you. This vision would act as the guiding light that would help you take the organization forward. In other words, it’s a perennial inspiration for progress.
On a group front, there is Compelling Shared Vision- the common goal towards which a team moves towards. In the absence of one, the team’s performance would fumble, lacking a clear objective.
Developed based on 25 years of business consultancy experience, some of the best leadership coaches help guide you to your vision in TVL.
Clear role definitions
It’s often said that every employee is a cog in the wheel that’s the organization. Meaningful as that analogy is, the fact remains that you should still define roles for every change agent. Simple as that may sound like, rarely is the goal clearly defined for employees in organizations. They are given tasks to perform but then tasks are different from roles.
You could think of this in terms of a staged play. All the characters in the play perform various tasks as part of their play. Now, imagine the disorientation you may feel if you are asked to perform these tasks without being made aware of your character;s name or what part s/he plays in the play or indeed why the character is performing these tasks!
Knowing such things would help improve the quality of the actor’s performance.
Similarly, role clarity improves the performance of change agents in organizations.
In this context, having Compelling Shared Vision helps team members define their own roles- pertaining to their strength- to help the team achieve the shared goal. Also, a leader with True Personal Vision would be able to better guide his or her team members to the goal.
A mind devoid of mental baggages
The word ‘minimalism’ somehow invokes a lightness of being. A sense of fluid movement while carrying minimal mental baggage, moving swiftly and softly like the breeze.
The idea of losing inhibitions and negative thoughts that may be blocking someone’s progress as a change agent is central to one of the key steps in TVL called ‘Clean Slate.’ In this step, the change agents are encouraged to assess their own self, to view the negativities that may be clamping them down.
Experts would help you identify the negativities and uproot them so that you could move forward with move confidence and with less mental baggage.
Use of Discernment in Minimalism
One curious aspect of vision is that it is ever-present within you and yet hard to grasp. A major reason for this is the interference of fantastical ideas into the thought process. Put simply, one begins to follow fantasies in the mistaken belief that they are worthy of pursuit. In fact, sometimes the reasoning behind this pursuit is so deep-rooted that even with meaningful advice from trustworthy individuals, one may continue on that path.
This is why it’s most important for you to practise discernment.
Discernment, simply put is the ability to see things for what they are- to judge the fantasy from the true vision. When presented with two paths- one leading to a dead end and the other stretching towards true vision, it helps you choose the right path.
This is particularly important in the context of discernment. For the pursuit of fantasies is the antithesis of minimalism as we have discussed here. The mind could be a great source of such fantasies if not properly guided, and pursuing one after the other of those fantasies is like focusing on the wrong objects in an over-cluttered room while the glowing orb in which you should be focused on lies abandoned among the detritus.
In terms of the mind, this detritus is made of fantasies and distractions. And discernment is the way to clear the clutter and bring focus to what’s most important.