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Take one thing off

How a Coco Chanel quote can help fashion your creative thinking.

Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off. - Coco Chanel

Don't get the wrong idea. This isn't a blog about stripping.

But it is a piece about stripping back.

When you're working on a project it can be very tempting to keep adding more stuff as you have more ideas. New thoughts and new things are a bonus, right? Why not stick on a new layer? Four more slides saying pretty much the same thing? More cowbell!

You get the picture. You may have been there yourself.

The need to add add add - and keep adding - is a human instinct. It makes us feel more comfortable, more secure, safer somehow - 'put it all in and let the audience decide'.

This is often done when we're on a deadline and feel the need to show a high level of productivity. 'If they see lots of things, it'll look like we've been working really hard'.

Problem is, it often ends up making your project, idea, presentation etc look confused and overwhelming. Quantity over quality.

The ability to cut, remove and chop comes down to two things: confidence and time.

Confidence lets you know exactly what's the right amount - of whatever you're producing. Whether that's a pitch, a piece of art or a fashionable, off-the-shoulder little black number. Confidence gives you clarity of vision and lets you execute something without any extraneous guff. It also comes from experience. Over time you get to know what works and what doesn't - and how to deliver without over-delivering.

Time is the other important component. To refine and to finesse - these are words that denote subtraction, not addition. To edit takes time - whether you're editing a film or book, or even refining a recipe, or science experiment.

You're probably aware of this quote, or its other variations:

"If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter"

It's often attributed to Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde, but the jury is still out on who said it first. The mathematician Blaise Pascal is also in the frame. As is Winston Churchill.

But whoever said it, the sentiment applies to almost anything. If you want to produce something with a clear vision, with a clear message, to have the maximum desired impact - you need time.

Time to work out what to remove - as much as the time to actually remove it.

So next time you're immersed in a project and can't figure out what's not working, take one thing off. Put it back on if needs be. Then take something else off. And another.

Just make sure that when you get down to your pants the curtains are closed and your webcam is off.


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