A Year of Less by Kelly Swingler

Why sometimes focusing on less is the way to produce more

I recently read Cait Flanders book ‘The Year of Less’, where the author takes us on her journey of having less in life.  The third ‘experiment’ that she has tried over the last few years, the latest starts as a year of buying less.  Cait starts with a list of the things she will buy, groceries, replacing irreparable items, and gifts and presents for family and friends.  What transpires, however, is that the less she buys, the less she needs and so she then begins to declutter her home, her workspace and her life.

The result?

A clearer head; more clarity, more focus, identifying what’s really important and a happier and more fulfilling life and career.

Over the last few months' we’ve seen the likes of retailers such as NEXT and Tesco scale back their growing empires.  Where they had started to sell everything to everyone online and in stores, the decline in the retail sector has seen a significant change.  Store closures, redundancies and a change in the goods being sold seem to be just the start of the changes being implemented in retail.

Companies who have always been slightly more niche and specialist such as Aspinal, instead of a decline in sales and store closures, are on an incredible journey of growth.

When I first started Chrysalis Consulting, having come from a generalist HR role as HR Director, I wanted to keep the breadth of skills I had, and was at first convinced that I could deliver everything to everyone.  As our client base and business has grown, we find ourselves offering fewer services to a wider audience, becoming experts in our field instead of 'jack of all trades and master of none'.

Many of our clients, who have over the years, begun to offer more and more services, some through acquisitions and mergers, others through natural growth, are now realising that specialising in a few key areas instead of the many that they initially envisaged is what is adding to their growth.

Now I’m not saying that every organisation should only ever focus on one thing, where would Virgin and Apple be if they hadn’t expanded their reach – but in order to do something brilliantly, focusing on one thing can help us to deliver amazing service, have greater clarity, identify what’s really important, stop doing the things that no longer serve us and have a happier and more fulfilling business.  From here, when the foundations are set, we can seek to grow and develop and branch out.

At the time that Apple launched their iPod, the audio and TV office at John Lewis where I was working at the time, was filled, floor to ceiling with broken and defective iPods, literally floor to ceiling. They were being returned at the same rate that they were being sold.

After a few months of the store being told to return them all for repair, Apple bit the bullet, gave immediate refunds and took a loss.  Their Macs were selling well, the Apple TV wasn’t even looked at by customers, but the iPod took customers by storm and whilst disappointed with their faulty items, customers trusted Apple to resolve the issue for them.

And it happened.

I have no idea how much of a financial hit they took, and I’m sure that if the customers had seen the amount of returned stock we were storing in the office they may never have purchased one.  As an Apple customer myself I wait for the bugs and fixes of every system upgrade to be fixed before installing, so I know things are broken, but I trust they will be fixed soon, and I remain a loyal customer.

Many of us are not Apple.  We can’t afford to write off thousands, or hundreds of thousands of pounds before we get something right.  Many of us can’t afford to disappoint our customers each time we roll out something new.  Many of us don’t have the following, the vision, the financial backing and the team of experts to pick up the pieces when things go wrong and do all we can to fix things – because many of us would be closed before we got to that point.

So, perhaps, we all need a period of ‘decluttering’ before we pack out our roles, our teams and our businesses with unnecessary tasks and systems and bucket loads of new ideas.  Perhaps, instead of change and growth, we need to for a while, to focus on what to stop, where to put our efforts and what to grow.  Perhaps, we need a year of less, where we focus on delighting our customers, and what we do well, rather than trying to roll out a lot of things we don’t do well, that aren’t the core of our business, and will just disappoint our customers.

Perhaps, our year of less should be focused on going back to basics and getting the fundamentals right; the foundations on which your company started, and from there – our tiny acorns can grow into mighty oaks, but for now, we need to do less to help us grow more.


This article is brought to you exclusively by The Business Transformation Network.


Kelly Swingler is the Rule Breaker and Founder of Chrysalis Consulting, The People and Change Experts and was appointed as the UK’s Youngest HR Director.  Kelly is passionate about helping people find bespoke people solutions to suit the needs of their business and is driving our mission of inspiring and empowering 10,000 HR professionals in 2018. She is the author of Fostering a Mindset for Career SuccessAGILE HR and what’s your excuse for not Overcoming Stress and speaks at many events on the Future of Work.