Keep it Simple! (a different perspective on the paradox of ‘stuff’)

Having less versus living joyfully…

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We Love the Message, not so Much the Reality

We love the message ‘keep it simple’ and we probably know there’s some truth in it. Yet… most of us don’t live it. Most of us don’t tend towards simplification, we tend towards complexity. We love the shiny, we buy the new books, we devour ideas, we discuss and argue the nuances…

I get it, me too.

This is not going to be a call for minimalism, not at all, I love my ‘stuff’ with lots of colour and a little disorder. I have pets so it’s impossible to keep a clean house (my excuse anyway), I like to write so of course I create ‘output’. I could debate ideas for hours with my friends, and do, more than ever in this lockdown, which has been one of the things I’ve appreciated.

I’m definitely not the person to tell you ‘less is more’ but I do want to tease apart the difference between the creating and the creation.

First Principles?

I have a client who loves to go back to first principles. She’s a complex thinker, an analyst turned senior leader and she likes to understand things (which can sometimes be a cause of stress for her.)

We’ve talked extensively about what that phrase means and what those ‘first principles’ are when it comes to leadership, and we both know, after months of exploration, that they have nothing to do with the myriad of text books and training programmes, or management consultancy sales pitches.

She knows that there is a simplicity to being human, in the same way there is a simplicity to most things.

It’s Normal to be Dazzled

And… we are also attracted to the dazzling, to understand something, to make patterns and create stories, metaphorical and real. It’s how we are wired. Even when those stories are about simplicity, I bet you will find textbooks and theories and training courses…

There’s an underpass near where I live, en route to the supermarket. My husband and I walked through at the weekend and the graffiti artists were there, painting over and re-creating their art on the concrete.

Oh, what a shame to paint over the old ones.

he said.

Yes, I get that, the regret of losing the form — an absolutely normal reaction; we feel love so of course we experience loss. But this is their process and covering the old is part of that.

There’s something beautiful in it I think, something honest. It is, in its own way, a statement of who we are.

Creating Rather than the Creation

We design complexity because we can and that’s the beauty of being human; that’s one of the those first principles my executive loves to talk about,

That it is the fact of creativity, not the object of the creation that drives us.

She likes that a lot because it’s made her own drive much more restful, while still being fierce. She can put down the desire to get somewhere, knowing the true beauty is in the travelling.

And I find for myself it’s also much easier to see when I am being tempted by a process or an object, and to distinguish distraction from desire.

When we become aware of the expression of our creativity, it’s easier to let go of the need to own or to attach to the end-product. It’s much easier to let go, and start again on the next project, not regretting the time spent but loving that we worked together, waiting for the next creative spark. It’s much easier to admire someone else’s work rather than feel the need to take something from it, to make ourselves less than because it wasn’t our creation.

It’s so much easier when we know that everything is created from first principles and it’s a necessary part of being human to we go back to them, and, therefore we need never worry about not being enough, or knowing enough, or owning enough.

Life’s a lot more simple that way, and less does not have to be more.

Oh, and it’s also the foundation of a joyful life

With love,


Cathy Presland

Here to help with leadership and impact. I have lots of free resources here, including regular free seminars, if you’d like to explore more deeply or join a conversation.

Originally published at on February 15, 2021.

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