The art of subtraction in Life & Business (Via Negativa)

"People who live far below their means enjoy a freedom that people busy upgrading their lifestyles can’t fathom." - @naval




Nassim Taleb in his monumental book Antifragile covered the idea of “Via Negativa”.

Via negativa is a Latin phrase used in Christian theology to explain a way of describing God by focusing on what he is not, rather than what he is.


Nassim Taleb argues that the best way for a person or organization to become antifragile (something that gains from setbacks and chaos rather than just survives) is to first decrease their downside. Many solutions in life can be solved by removing things; rather than adding.


For example, avoiding sugar, soda, high carbs, and smoking can do wonders for our body. Avoiding debt and limiting spending takes care of our finances. Avoiding and ending toxic relationships. The list goes on.


Taleb writes –

"I would add that, in my own experience, a considerable jump in my personal health has been achieved by removing offensive irritants: the morning newspapers, the boss, the daily commute, air-conditioning, television, emails from documentary filmmakers, economic forecasts, news about the stock market, gym “strength training” machines, and many more."

He then adds –

“In practice it is the negative that’s used by the pros, those selected by evolution: chess grandmasters usually win by not losing; people become rich by not going bust (particularly when others do); religions are mostly about interdicts; the learning of life is about what to avoid. You reduce most of your personal risks of accident thanks to a small number of measures.”
Following via negativa may seem like a defensive and risk-averse way to live. But by focusing on what you don’t do, you actually put yourself in a position to be more aggressive with life."

So we should be inverting the questions that we ask every day.


Instead of how searching for “How to’s” (addition) we should be focussing on asking, seeking, and practicing “How not to’s”.

Often this gives much more clarity. You’ll be surprised at the insights you’ll get from the answers to these via negativa questions.


There are as many ways to make money in the business as there are people in the markets, but there are relatively few ways to lose money. So if you learn why people lose and thereby control losses, profits will follow.


If you have 25 things to do this year, trim the list down to Top 5 things. This will help with being razor-sharp and put things on your top priority list.

Focus on top products and services. Trim down remove features and services and prioritize.


Michelangelo was asked by the pope about the secret of his genius, particularly in regards to the statue of David, largely considered to be the greatest sculpting masterpiece of all time. Michelangelo responded by saying, “It’s simple. I just remove everything that is not David.”

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