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Title: In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas have Something Missing
Author(s): Matthew E. May
Number of Referenced Stories: 12

Publication Year: 2009
ISBN: 9780385526494
Dewey Decimal Class: 100
Dewey Decimal Division: 153
Author Website:

    Jean-François Zobrist
    Nigerian-born business lecturer, Mohammed Bah Abba

Just in Time Stories:
    Story 3 - Montana Speed Limit Increased Highway Deaths
    #213 - French FAVI Management Definitions Cue Behaviors
    #510 - No Traffic Signs Improve Behaviors
    #1104 - Desert Coolers Increase Women's Role in Nigeria

B's Buzz

Matt May shares a story:

Thumbnail Narrative: "Imagine that you've just inherited $20 million free and clear, but you only have ten years to live. What would you do differently—and specifically, what would you stop doing? This 20-10 assignment was given to a younger, but now acclaimed consultant and thought leader, Jim Collins by a Stanford Business School professor he admired.

Though he wasn't her student Collins took the assignment to heart. He begins each year by deciding what to not do. Collins believes every to-do list should include stop-doing items. He described this stop-doing argument in a USA Today essay:

A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit—to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort—that distinguishes the exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company, or most important of all, a life."

Reframe Your Conduct: Add stop-doing items to your to-do lists and then, of course, stop doing them. This will free up individual and corporate time. What you choose to spend this freed-up time doing could include necessary-but-undone items—like exercising regularly or mentoring others. In a corporate setting this time can be redirected to higher priority work; e.g., purchasing agents refocused on negotiating national purchase contracts to reduce their repetitive, routine purchasing transactions.

A Parallel Story: May argues that wisdom lies in doing less In Pursuit of Elegance. Another of his referenced dozen stories involves Montana where no speed limit on its rural primary highways became state law in 1995. The state returned to a pre-1975 highway Speed Limit of "reasonable and prudent." For the next five years Montana motorist fatality rates fell below the lowest annual rate recorded during the previous twenty-five years. This is called The Montana Paradox. An open ended speed limit definition influenced better driver behavior and considerably fewer deaths than exact speed limits. Said simply, people didn’t feel compelled to drive 65 mph in a snowstorm.

Montana was forced to reinstate the national maximum speed limit in 2000; and in that year alone, highway road fatalities more than doubled. Over the next two years, Montana's road fatalities hit all-time record levels. A behavioral definition—posted speed limit—cued drivers to disengage their brains and revert to auto-pilot. See Traffic for other stories where the absence of a definition improved driver behavior.

Can you name other well-intentioned yet paradoxical behavioral definitions that prompt similar results? For clues check out featured Just-In-Time Stories from other Open4Definition referenced books including Super Freakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell's What The Dog Saw, and international journalist T. R. Reid's The Healing of America.

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