WHEN 2 + 2 = 3


Supposing you were stranded alone in a forest at night.

It’s freezing cold, it’s raining, and there’s a biting wind.

You’ve got no clothes, you’re soaking wet and starving hungry.

All you can think of is getting indoors out of the rain, into the dry.

Then you see a little wooden hut in the forest.

You knock on the door, they invite you in.

They put you by the roaring fire.

They dry you off, they give you nice, warm fluffy clothes to wear.

They give you hot, thick soup to drink.

That’s the happiest moment of your life.

It’s a feeling of pure bliss.

You’ve got everything you desired.

But wait a minute.

If the little cabin made you that happy, wouldn’t a bigger cabin make you even happier?

Wouldn’t more clothes increase your happiness even further?

How about a bigger fire and more food?

If what you had made you happy, then wouldn’t twice as much make you twice as happy?

And three times as much must make you three times as happy, right?

Well actually, no.

As we all know, it doesn’t work like that.

What happens is what’s known as The Law Of Diminishing Marginal Returns.

After the initial satisfaction, every additional unit has less and less effect.

The more you have, the less each subsequent unit is worth.

Like drinking beer.

The first glass of ice cold beer is great, the fifth not quite so great, and by the ninth it’s just another beer.

It works that way with everything: cigarettes, drugs, food, cars, shoes, sex, travel, fame.

Sure it’s always good to have more.

But it’s never as good as the original.

And each one is worth slightly less than the one before.

It has to be that way.

The first of anything represents 100% gain.

That’s the difference between nothing and everything.

Then the second only represents a 50% gain.

And the third, still less, a 33% gain.

The fourth, a 25% gain, and so on.

Our job is no different.

The more we fuss and fiddle with something, the less return we get on our effort.

It’s diminishing marginal returns.

Given we get far more return on our effort at the beginning of the process, it makes sense to put most effort in there.

But we don’t do that.

We see something new and fresh and original, and we agree it’s great.

Then we stop, and spend months debating every tiny detail.

Polishing it, picking over it, honing it, researching it, worrying about it, fiddling with it, reviewing it, considering alternatives.

Concentrating on everything except the initial idea that got us excited.

In fact, we put much more effort into perfecting each miniscule nuance than we did into the original idea.

And when eventually, after months and months we run it, it doesn’t feel as fresh, and new, and original as it did at first.

And we wonder why.

What we don’t realise is that, sometimes, making it better is making it worse.

Maybe we should put our attention onto coming up with new ideas.


Not diminishing marginal returns on existing ones.