Addition By Subtraction

Most people think they can move ahead in their lives only by addition. By doing new and better things. Take a course, change jobs, start a business, or move to a low-tax jurisdiction. All of these might add value, but none is without risk and cost.

An alternative to growth by addition

There is a risk-free and cost-free way to advance. Stop doing things that don’t work.

Add to your total well-being by deleting things that drag at your aggregate achievement. Subtraction. For some, that is not so difficult for others, near impossible. Most good managers have almost no ego. They can quit decisions that have not worked as expected. Quit and move on. It isn’t personal, just a lesson.

Economist John Cochrane explains it this way, “Fixing dysfunction is a visible achievement that works right away, with no short-run cost.”

There are few things that work at no cost, quickly and positively. You should look for opportunities like that and act on them when discovered.

People incur large costs both in money and time when they try to save an obviously weak decision. Most of the time, that impulse is driven by the wish to make a decision look better than it was. Your ego is your enemy.

The bit to take away

Look for things you are doing that, if you were not already doing them this way, you would not begin.


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software startup, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning and business matters. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Federal Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com.

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