Transcript of the podcast:
Speaker 1: There are some fires, obviously, in the city of San Francisco …
Speaker 2: A major earth earthquake …
Speaker 3: This earthquake today was measured at between 6.5 and 7 on the Richter scale …
Speaker 4: … far south as Los Angeles we have reports of major power outages in San Francisco and …
Katy Milkman: On October 17th of 1989, San Francisco was rocked by a massive earthquake, which clocked in at 6.9 on the Richter scale. The Loma Prieta earthquake damaged many structures in the area, including the Embarcadero Freeway.
Speaker 6: The entire upper deck, it just seemed to collapse during the shaker, and you could see those ripples …
Katy Milkman: The two-level elevated highway ran along the waterfront and carried tens of thousands of vehicles each day up until the disaster. In the aftermath of the quake, which caused huge segments of the freeway to collapse, the California Department of Transportation planned to do the obvious, repair and retrofit the double decker freeway to make it safer. They had the blessing of various groups inside and outside of the city, despite the fact that it was going to be an incredibly expensive endeavor. But Art Agnos, who was the mayor at the time, proposed demolishing and removing the freeway entirely. There was strong opposition to the idea, many people worried that it would choke traffic and affect local businesses. But it was finally demolished in 1991. The city built a ground level boulevard in its place, along with a promenade for pedestrians and cyclists. Removing the freeway, turned out to be a major improvement to San Francisco.
Today, where that massive freeway once stood, you'll find tourists and locals strolling along the waterfront, taking in views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. You'll see families making their way to popular restaurants or the Farmer's Market. The waterfront became a destination. In this episode, we're looking at an approach to design challenges that is often overlooked. Whether it's a big challenge, like dealing with the eyesore and pollution caused by an urban freeway, or a small one, like teaching your kids to ride a bike.
I'm Dr. Katy Milkman, and this is Choiceology, an original podcast from Charles Schwab. It's a show about the psychology and economics behind our decisions. We bring you true stories involving life-changing moments, and then we explore the latest research and behavioral science to help you make better judgments and avoid costly mistakes.
Ryan McFarland: Hi, I'm Ryan McFarland. I'm the founder of Strider Bikes. We make the little bikes that help little kids learn to ride at a really young age.
Katy Milkman: Ryan McFarland is all about bikes, big and small.
Ryan McFarland: I grew up around bicycles and motorcycles. My dad had a motorcycle dealership when I was a little kid. I was probably five or six years old when I learned to ride. The typical process of training wheels and my dad running along with me, when we finally took those off, wobbling along and eventually finding my balance. And that's the way kids have been learning to ride for decades now, and it's actually the same path that I started down with my own son.
Katy Milkman: Ryan's son, Bode, was born in 2003, and Ryan was keen to get him riding as soon as possible.
Ryan McFarland: I was just so excited to get him riding and share this thing that meant so much to me in my childhood. He saw me riding my dirt bike a lot—and mountain bikes, bicycles, riding wheelies around. And he was, I think, intrigued and excited by all this stuff and saw it as just part of life, I guess. So that's what really got me thinking of ways to get him riding at a young, young age. My wife would say, "Well, just be patient and give it a few more years." And I was like, no, there's got to be a way to make this happen right now. I'm too impatient.
Katy Milkman: That impatience led Ryan to buy several wheeled riding toys for his son, hoping they would lead Bode to cycling.
Ryan McFarland: Four-wheeled scoot toys and little wheeled walkers and everything. He had a tricycle, and he had a little pedal bike with training wheels on it, and he's two years old. I just was so excited. I was buying all these different things that were supposed to work and help him learn this skill.
Katy Milkman: But Ryan found that these training toys didn't work as expected.
Ryan McFarland: I spent more money than most people do on dead-end products and realized that, geez, this is not working. The tricycle, for instance, looks small enough, but when you really start taking some hard measurements, you realize that, well, when that pedal is in the downstroke, the furthest point from the seat, it's actually farther away than his leg is long. So his leg won't reach it on the downstroke. And if you turn the steering wheel, then the pedal goes even further away. So, you really start realizing that the stuff isn't matched properly to the child's size. So try as they might, they're not going to be able to do this. And that's what sent me to the garage to see if I could figure out a way to make it work.
Katy Milkman: Ryan began by imagining himself in his son's place.
Ryan McFarland: So I started thinking, if this bike weighs almost as much as he does, it would be me, as an adult, having a first bicycling experience on a bike that weighed 150 pounds and had no gears whatsoever, just one speed. And then when I looked at the height of it, compared to his height, it'd be a bike that had a seat that was probably four feet off the ground. It'd be an impossible task. And even if I could get on it, I'd probably never want to ride a bike again, because it'd be such a bad experience. So I started thinking, well, why is this so mismatched and how do I get it scaled down to where he is, right now, as a two-year-old?
Katy Milkman: He first approached the problem by adding features to the trike.
Ryan McFarland: I taped some wooden blocks onto the pedals to try and make it so he could reach them easier. And then, he'd have trouble with his feet slipping off. So I actually, just to see whether he had the leg strength to do this, or whether it was just his feet were slipping off, I actually duct-taped his shoes onto the pedals just to see if that would help. But it still just became evident it was just too much. The little tricycle weighed almost as much as he did at that point, and you look at the gearing and ratios and everything, you're just asking too much.
Katy Milkman: At this point, Ryan began to fundamentally rethink the problem.
Ryan McFarland: All these little bikes and tricycles that we see on the market, they look small to us as adults, but if you make a hard comparison of their dimensions and weights, relative to a two-year-old's, you find out that they actually are not scaled to that rider. So I set down the path of trying to make the bike actually small, light, so that it matched up with him well. I've always been kind of a tinkerer and builder. I've got a number of things that I've invented over the years, different patents on bicycling, wheelchair, different items. But really, it was just trying to build a bike for my son, and really, the area that I ran into problems with was the drivetrain, the pedal cranks.
Katy Milkman: For the non-cyclists out there, pedal cranks are the metal arms that hold the pedals and transfer the force to the chain and rear wheel. On even the smallest bikes, those cranks are much too long for a child of Bode's age.
Ryan McFarland: To scale those pedal cranks to where they would need to be, relative to his leg, which his leg was like 11 inches long at that time, so you'd need a crank that was maybe an inch and a half long. And that's just not even feasible. The bottom line is, he needs longer legs, and so you're kind of back to this, well, maybe we got to wait until he is four or five years old. So that's where I really had the little mental struggle there of, well, could I just get rid of them?
Katy Milkman: This was an important realization and not the typical solution to this kind of design problem.
Ryan McFarland: For me, it's like, well, is it going to be a bike anymore? So I had to roll through that in my head a little bit, and I just separated riding the bike from propelling the bike. And it's kind of a breakthrough moment because when you do that, it's like it brings everything together from a balance bike, to a bicycle, to a motorcycle. It's like, that is their DNA. That you straddle a seat on two wheels with a handlebar out in front and you lean through turns controlled by steering and counter steering. So pedals are irrelevant to riding the bike. They're just a way to make the bike move when necessary.
Katy Milkman: This seemingly simple insight of removing the pedals set Ryan on the path to build a new kind of bicycle for his young son. But how to start?
Ryan McFarland: I went to probably Kmart at the time and basically bought the smallest, lightest bike I could find to start with. So it had plastic wheels and a foam tire. Really, really simple. Interestingly though, it still had pedals and training wheels, and it had a really high seat, and the handlebars swooped up high. So I started taking all of that out and knew that I had to get the seat down to 11 inches, which is where his leg length was, his inseam. The whole upper half of the frame I cut away just to try and get the seat down as low as possible so that he could get his feet to the ground. Cranks and the bottom bracket and bearings: just removed it all. Took the chain off, took the cog off the rear wheel to lighten it up. At that point, the handlebars were way too high, so cut the handlebars and put just simply a flat bar across, right above the head tube.
Katy Milkman: With this Frankenstein prototype complete, Ryan needed a test pilot. Luckily, Bode was up for the job.
Ryan McFarland: Oh, he took to it right away. He jumped on it—it was super light and easy to use. He could pull it up and pretend like he's doing a wheelie. And then basically anywhere he could walk, he could take the bike. I mean, he's out in the grass, he's going up over little curbs, and we've got some trails around our house, so he is out in the dirt and going over tree roots. And I mean, it just really became an extension of him then, because it fit him, and he would just take it all over the place. Nice job. Follow mom. The other piece there is, since we were taking the bike everywhere, out into public and even crowded places, often we started getting all kinds of people asking about it.
Katy Milkman: That interest led Ryan to realize that there was a market for balance bikes for young kids.
Ryan McFarland: So I started working on this when he was two, built the bike that summer, so he was probably going on two and a half. And then really we had Strider prototypes and starting early production when he was three. And so, through all of that, he was basically our product test rider. And for all of our photos and videos to get the company started and everything, he was our model and everything. So he played a big part in the startup of the company.
Ryan McFarland: Yeah?
Bode: … line up and we're going to see who's going to win.
Ryan McFarland: OK. That sounds good. Line them up.
Katy Milkman: Ryan admits he didn't invent the balance bike, but rather repurposed it for small kids.
Ryan McFarland: It was a change in perspective. Balance bikes have been out for 200 years; they predate all bicycles and motorcycles. So in a way, it was just rediscovering the beauty of the original 200-year-old balance bike in application for a super young child. The beauty of starting on a Strider is that you learn that counter steer and lean from day one. So it's a completely different path for a child that starts on a balance bike compared to a tricycle or training wheels.
Katy Milkman: That little garage project has turned into a multimillion-dollar business with lots of happy kids learning to ride on Strider Bikes.
Ryan McFarland: We figure we've sold three and a half million bikes at this point, and with hand-me-downs and everything else, we've figured a solid 10 million kids have learned how to ride bikes on Striders. That's an amazing impact when you think about it, of encouraging active outdoor lifestyles in children and all the confidence that comes with it. Many times, it's harder to find the simple answer. It seems to take more time and thought and analysis to get to the essence of a problem or a situation. But it typically is the best answer.
Katy Milkman: Ryan McFarland is the founder of Strider Bikes. I've got a link in the show notes and at schwab.com/podcast. The story of Strider Bikes, like the story of the Embarcadero Freeway, hinges on something being removed rather than added. The approach of removing features to improve a structure, a product, or an organization turns out to be notable. And that's because research shows that we humans have a bias towards addition when solving most problems. University of Virginia engineering professor Leidy Klotz first hypothesized that people might exhibit subtraction neglect when his son made a surprising choice while working with Lego building blocks. He removed a block to make a bridge even on both sides, rather than adding a block, which had been Leidy's instinct when he noticed the imbalance. The insight that most of us may be biased towards addition led Leidy to approach behavioral scientist Gabrielle Adams to test this possibility.
Then Adams, in collaboration with Klotz, Benjamin Converse, and Andrew Hales, formally demonstrated the phenomenon in a series of studies. The team found that people tend to systematically overlook subtraction as a potential solution to a wide variety of problems they might face. Maybe you've noticed this tendency in your own life. Maybe you tend to only add appointments to your schedule or to your to-do list. Or maybe, like a lot of us, you tend to buy more and more things without thinking about what you might get rid of. This bias has real consequences for our budgets, our time, and our planet. I asked Gabrielle, or Gabe, Adams to join me to discuss her research on subtraction neglect. She's an assistant professor of public policy and business administration at the University of Virginia. Hi, Gabe, thank you so much for joining me today.
Gabrielle Adams: Hi, Katy, thank you so much for having me.
Katy Milkman: I am really excited to talk about your work on subtraction, and I'm hoping you could start by just explaining what it means when you say that people systematically overlook subtractive changes.
Gabrielle Adams: What we mean by that is that, when people improve something, they tend to only think about what they can add, and they tend not to consider what they might remove or take away or subtract. And by systematically, we mean that this is the way that people tend to approach change problems and the way that people tend to solve problems, that this exists across what seems like a wide variety of problems.
Katy Milkman: It's such an interesting observation. I'm wondering if you could describe a favorite research study or two demonstrating what I'll call subtraction neglect.
Gabrielle Adams: Sure. So, in the research that we did on this topic, we divide our paper into two sections. We have a series of observational studies that show that when confronted with a variety of problems, people tend not to subtract, and they only add. And then, in the experiments in the paper, we start to delve into why this is the case. We show that subtractive changes are psychologically inaccessible unless we prompt, or cue, or remind people to think about subtraction as an option. So, to study this, we gave people a small Lego structure—it's essentially shaped like a house with a platform on top, but the platform is unstable, kind of like a one-legged table. And we asked people to improve this structure so that it could hold this really heavy brick on the platform above this little figurine's head. And the figurine looked like a little mini storm trooper figure.
Katy Milkman: I'm going to pause the interview for a minute and let you hear a little re-creation of this experiment. It's fascinating to notice how this idea of removing a brick from the structure rarely occurs to our volunteers as they attempt to make the platform more secure.
Speaker 9: Overhangs, above the square, on the little man.
Speaker 10: OK.
Speaker 11: Don't die, little man.
Speaker 10: So your job is to make that platform, that's hanging over the little guy, more stable.
Speaker 9: Oh, because this isn't … Yeah.
Speaker 10: Yeah, going to fall right off, yeah. But there's a trick.
Speaker 9: Yeah?
Speaker 10: So you've got a budget of a dollar, and adding a piece costs you 10 cents.
Speaker 9: OK.
Speaker 10: OK? So you're starting with a dollar. So what would you do?
Speaker 9: OK. I'm just going to put a thing right there at the edge, maybe one on each side. They are not centered. And there we go. Yeah.
Speaker 10: OK. So how many pieces did you use?
Speaker 9: Three.
Speaker 10: OK. So how much of your budget you have left?
Speaker 9: 70 cents.
Speaker 10: 70 cents left.
Speaker 9: Yeah.
Speaker 10: OK.
Speaker 9: Nice.
Speaker 10: Nicely done.
Speaker 11: Nice.
Gabrielle Adams: We randomly assigned participants to two different conditions. So, in the first control condition, we said you can modify the structure however you choose, adding pieces costs 10 cents. And then, for the participants in the reminder condition, we gave them the exact same instructions and we tacked on this phrase where we said, "Adding pieces costs 10 cents, but removing pieces is free." Which is essentially, if you think about it, redundant information. It gives them no new information about the task or the instructions; it merely cues them to think about subtraction as a reminder. And so participants all receive a dollar that they can use, and there's a bowl of extra Lego bricks sitting next to the structure, and they proceed to modify the structure to try to make it more stable.
And one of the ways that they can make it stable is, of course, by adding bricks. And if they add bricks to the remaining three corners, it would cost 30 cents. But participants could also improve the structure by subtracting the brick that's making the platform unstable, by just removing that one brick. And when they do that, it costs no money. So they literally walk away from the experiment with a full dollar. And what we find is that participants are more likely to stumble upon that solution—they're more likely to earn more money in the experiment—when they are reminded with that little extra piece of information that removing pieces is free and costs nothing.
Speaker 10: OK, so your job is to make this platform as stable as possible. You've got some extra Lego blocks here. You've got a budget of a dollar. Adding a block costs you 10 cents, but removing bricks is free.
Speaker 12: Well, so I would take this little pink one away. And there we go, that's even more stable.
Speaker 10: How much have you got left?
Speaker 12: I've got all my money left.
Speaker 10: Excellent.
Gabrielle Adams: That's the main study that I think of when I think of subtraction neglect, showing that subtraction is a psychologically inaccessible option, unless we are reminded that we can do that. And that actually it can leave us with better outcomes—we might be better off if we do think of subtractive solutions.
Katy Milkman: That's such a great study. And by the way, I just want to mention that one of the things I love about your work on this is that, while you study it in so many creative ways, and Lego structures are one creative way, you've studied it across a wide range of settings and showed this doesn't just apply to problems when we're playing with Legos. It applies to problems in organizations and so on. Could you talk a little bit about some of the different spots where you have documented subtraction neglect?
Gabrielle Adams: So we have one study that we did with an organization that was going through a large change process. And the leader of this organization was soliciting all kinds of ways that the organization could change from all of the different employees and stakeholders. And so this was a university. It's a university president who says, "What are all of the ways that you can make this place better? I want to hear your ideas." And so, like any good group of behavioral scientists, we got our hands on this data, and there were thousands of suggestions. And we coded them for whether the suggestion itself was intended to create change by adding something to the university. So more opportunities for travel or study abroad or grants. Or whether the changes were subtractive in nature.
So what are the things that are not working that we can get rid of? And the vast majority of ideas that were submitted to this leader were additive rather than subtractive. So it's one of the studies that I often like to bring up when thinking about the organizational implications, because if we're thinking about how to make an organization better, we are limiting ourselves to only one class of suggestions, and we are potentially overlooking a way to expand the number of suggestions by thinking about ways in which we might subtract. So we've got to make sure that we're not neglecting to consider this other class of suggestions we might be missing.
Katy Milkman: That's really, really important. What do you think it is that causes people, at their core, to overlook these opportunities to subtract? You mentioned that it's not top of mind—you've shown that it's not something that people think of automatically—they have to be reminded. But do you have any hypotheses about what it is about human nature that makes us look for ways to add and not ways to subtract?
Gabrielle Adams: These are mechanisms that we haven't tested in our research, so I'll conjecture are here a little bit. We have considered mechanisms that are cultural or evolutionary and we call them these distal mechanisms that might be contributing to the fact that we overlook subtraction. In our research, the mechanism that we focus on is the fact that people just simply don't think of subtraction. It's not that they can't think of subtraction. It's just that it's not the first place their mind goes. But fortunately, with reminders, it's easily thought of.
But why we systematically overlook subtraction, and why subtractive changes are psychologically inaccessible, I think there could be a wide variety of reasons why that might be the case that rest in culture, that rest in evolution, perhaps. The brain, the way that we learn about removing in school and subtraction, we know, for example, that it's harder for children to learn about subtraction than it is for them to learn about addition. In order to subtract, you have to first imagine whatever you're subtracting as present before you can imagine it as being removed, and so it's this extra cognitive step that needs to occur.
Katy Milkman: Do you think of this as a bias that generally leads people to make worse decisions? Or do you think it's just a tendency with consequences that are negative in some of the studies you've designed, but maybe consequences that are positive in other settings?
Gabrielle Adams: That's a great question. I mean, our studies are basically rigged in the sense that, if they think of subtraction, subtraction is obviously the objectively better, superior option. So people are giving worse or wrong or incorrect answers, or, in the Lego structure study, they are ending up with lower pay. You can imagine that if people need to think quickly, that they might not necessarily be missing out on ideas that are subtractive because they might not be able to use them or implement them quickly. But I also think that one implication of this research is that they are missing out on some ideas. And it's not the case that more ideas is always necessarily better, but when we are trying to come up with ways to change something, ways to solve a problem, in order to make good decisions, I think we need to make sure that we have carefully and thoughtfully considered the options that are on the table. And so this is a way, I think, of making sure that all of the options are, in fact, on the table.
Katy Milkman: What, if anything, do you do differently in your life, now that you've become an expert on this topic?
Gabrielle Adams: I think a lot about ways in which I can take things away from my schedule, in particular. And I have this colleague here at UVA who, whenever she cancels or says no to a meeting or RSVPs no to a calendar invitation, she actually leaves it in her calendar so that when she gets to that time in her calendar, it feels like a bonus. It feels like this gift of time that she has received. And she, in doing so, I think is making the fact that she has subtracted noticeable. I think the problem is that we tend not to notice things that we subtracted. Subtracting things literally means that they aren't there anymore, and so we can't learn to subtract because it's not being reinforced.
So how do we remember to do it? And I think she's hit upon a really great way to remember the importance of subtraction in her own life, so I've stolen that tip from her as well. And we do cheesy things now—we have a "No" bell that sits outside our offices. And whenever we say no to something that we really should not do, even if it's tempting, we ring this little cow bell that we have. But I think the main way that this has impacted our lives, I think, has mostly been through scheduling and trying to navigate the crowded schedules and overburdened diaries that we have.
Katy Milkman: That's an amazing application. I don't know if I've disclosed this before on the show, but I have a "No Club," which is a group of other academics at a similar phase. And our rule is that when we get asked to do something that's outside of our immediate job responsibilities, where it's optional, we aren't allowed to say yes unless we go to the No Club. Because we've tried to create friction to prevent us from adding things, but what we don't do in our No Club is ever talk about subtracting things. So I'm actually getting ideas for ways to enhance the salience of no even more from you.
So this is really interesting. OK, for your average listener, who might be as overburdened in terms of time as we are and love all of those ideas, but let's say they have other problems that they're worried about in life, too. Like how to be successful at managing their finances, how to be happy in their home life, how to stay healthy, et cetera. What do you think their key takeaway should be from this? Are there any obvious ways, to you, that they can use their new-found understanding of subtraction neglect to make better choices?
Gabrielle Adams: I think so. The contribution of this research, I think, is to expand the ways in which people can solve problems. When we think about how to better manage our money, how to better save, how to eat healthier, how to exercise more, those are all problems that we are trying to solve. And so what we're constantly trying to do is design solutions. So in some ways, as Herb Simon said, everyone designs who changes the status quo into a preferred state. So we have to think of ourselves as little miniature designers and think about ways in which we can design better solutions, better products, better schedules, better savings plans. And what I think about when I think about this research is, when we are designing things, we have to remember that part of the design process is about taking things away, not just adding. And not just adding features or extra little add-ons that we think are going to make our lives easier.
Sometimes we just need to think, "OK, what could I take away? What could I remove? Do I really need this? Would my life be better, actually, if I didn't do this or if I didn't have this? Do I really need more options in my investment portfolio, or do I want to think about divesting as a way to making something more sustainable? Do I think about, when I'm picking up my kids, how could I make that not just more fun but also more efficient? What can I subtract? What routes can I take to do that?" So whether it's a stay-at-home mom or a stay-at-home dad, a portfolio manager, we are all always designing, I think, when we solve problems. And so hopefully this is expanding the way when people approach those design-related problems.
Katy Milkman: Love that. I think that's a perfect place to wrap, so let me just thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I've really enjoyed it and I know our listeners will, too.
Gabrielle Adams: Thank you so much for having me.
Katy Milkman: Gabrielle Adams is an assistant professor of public policy and business administration at the Frank Baton School of Leadership and Public Policy at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. You can find a link to the paper she co-authored with Benjamin Converse, Andrew Hales, and Leidy Klotz in the show notes and at schwab.com/podcast. You can also find a link to Leidy Klotz's book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, where he tells the story of his son's Lego insight, which spurred this work, and where he writes about the brilliant subtraction that led to the creation of Strider Bikes for kids.
Rather than adding to your portfolio, does it make sense to subtract something? On a recent two-part episode of the Financial Decoder podcast, host Mark Riepe and his guests consider when it makes sense to sell different investments, from individual stocks and bonds to mutual funds and ETFs. Check it out at schwab.com/financialdecoder or wherever you get your podcasts.
When I first learned about subtraction neglect, I couldn't help but think of the international celebrity and organizing consultant Marie Kondo's meteoric rise to fame, with the simple and wise advice to ruthlessly declutter our lives and find more joy through subtraction. What this work has helped me appreciate is that we all need to think like Marie Kondo about far more than our closets. If we're all biased towards addition, our calendars will overflow, our houses will bulge, our finances will strain, our payrolls will climb, and our waistlines will stretch. Simply recognizing that your tendency is to add rather than to subtract can be a huge help. But better yet, you can regularly hunt for opportunities to subtract things from your life. Just like a good spring cleaning can bring satisfaction, what if you made a monthly or quarterly plan to review your calendar for commitments you should really cancel? And to review your finances for subscriptions and investments you should abandon.
And what if, when thinking through any challenge at home or at work, you pushed yourself not just to think of additive solutions but also to consider what could be subtracted. Behavioral science suggests those strategies might well make you better off.
You've been listening to Choiceology, an original podcast from Charles Schwab. If you've enjoyed the show, we'd be really grateful if you'd leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. You can also follow us for free in your favorite podcasting app. And if you want more of the kinds of insights we bring you on Choiceology, about how to improve your decisions, you can order my book How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. Or sign up for my monthly newsletter, Milkman Delivers, at katymilkman.com/newsletter. Next time, you'll hear about a man who is viewed by some as a villain and by others as a hero—but in fact, may be neither. And I'll speak to social psychologist, Richard Nesbitt, about the things we miss when we judge the behavior of others. I'm Dr. Katy Milkman. Talk to you soon.
Speaker 13: For important disclosures, see the show notes or visit schwab.com/podcast.
After you listen
Are you considering subtracting something from your portfolio?
- Listen to a two-part episode of the Financial Decoder podcast, in which Mark Riepe and his guests consider when it makes sense to sell different investments, from individual stocks and bonds to mutual funds and ETFs.
Supply chain issues and income inequality notwithstanding, we live in an age of abundance. Our closets overflow with clothing. Many children have more toys than they could possibly enjoy. Garages are filled with sporting gear. Offices are cluttered with gadgets. And even our calendars are packed with meetings and tasks. It can all be a bit much.
In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at a bias that leads us to add to our collections and to-do lists but neglect to remove unnecessary or unhelpful items.
We begin with the charming story of Strider Bikes, the pedal-less balance bikes for small children. Founder Ryan McFarland is an avid cyclist and motorcycle enthusiast. When his son Bode was 2 years old, Ryan was keen to get him started on riding toys. But nothing he tried quite worked for such a young child. So began a quest to engineer a bike that would get Bode riding right away but still teach him the fundamentals of two-wheeled cycling.
Next, you'll hear a re-creation of an experiment inspired by the research of Leidy Klotz and Gabrielle Adams and their collaborators, showing how this tendency to solve problems by addition can sometimes be costly and suboptimal.
Gabrielle Adams joins Katy to discuss the science behind this bias towards addition. You'll hear about practical strategies to overcome this bias that will help you save time and money—and maybe even declutter your mind.
You can read more about subtraction neglect in the research paper Gabrielle Adams co-authored with Benjamin Converse, Andrew Hales, and Leidy Klotz.
Gabrielle Adams is an assistant professor of public policy and business administration at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
Finally, Katy discusses ways to identify opportunities to subtract things from your life that may end up making you better off.
Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab.
If you enjoy the show, please leave a rating or review on Apple Podcasts.
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