You’d be forgiven for not noticing a fundamental change in the pedagogical methods for teaching kids to ride a bike: Training wheels are out; balance bikes are in. Actually, if you’re a parent of anyone under 15, you probably have noticed this shift. But within this shift lies a potent lesson in the power of thinking subtractively — which just happens to be the central idea of our newest research. Let me explain:

  • The received wisdom (that was wrong). Until the 2000s, there was a consensus that training wheels were the most logical way to learn to ride a bike. But new research shows that this notion was all wrong: Training wheels teach learners all the wrong instincts. The crux of the issue is something called countersteering (which we’re not going to get into deeply here, but you can check it out in this dope video).
  • The (subtractive) innovation. So if training wheels aren’t ideal, what’s better? In the mid-2000s, a guy named Ryan McFarland used what we at Forrester call “subtractive innovation” and removed all the extra stuff that makes bicycles hard to ride. Instead of adding training wheels — or anything else — he subtracted the pedals. The result was the Strider balance bike, a pedalless bicycle that helps kids naturally learn the principles of steering a bike while keeping their feet close to the ground.
  • What it means (for you). Studies show that, when solving problems, humans gravitate toward additive solutions (such as affixing training wheels to bikes). The “why” is hotly contested, with some saying it’s baked into our psychology and others arguing that social pressures push people to add. But executives and their teams, particularly digital strategy leaders, have an opportunity to challenge the status quo, create new value for customers, and drive growth by harnessing the power of subtractive innovation.

As we put it in our latest research report: Everyone else is adding; you should subtract.

I urge you to read the full report if you’re a Forrester client — or email me if you want to talk about subtractive innovation more.

[This blog was coauthored by Aaron Suiter, who learned to bike on good ol’ training wheels.]