Chapter 2: Historical and Philosophical Roots of Minimalism

The Evolution of Minimalism

Alex Lew, CFA
2 min readApr 12, 2024

Minimalism, as a concept, has its roots deeply embedded in various cultural, artistic, and philosophical traditions. Originally emerging prominently in the visual arts and music of the Western world during the 1960s, minimalism was a reaction against the complexity and excess of abstract expressionism. Artists and musicians sought to strip their works down to the fundamental, essential elements, emphasizing simplicity and purity.

This philosophical approach soon permeated other areas, including architecture, interior design, and eventually, business and technology. In each field, minimalism challenged the prevailing norms by questioning the necessity of excess and highlighting the beauty and functionality of simplicity.

Philosophical Underpinnings

The philosophical underpinnings of minimalism are largely influenced by Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the value of simplicity and the importance of getting rid of unnecessary possessions. This philosophy asserts that reduction and simplicity lead to a clearer, more focused mind, which is crucial for product managers who must often make complex decisions under pressure.

In the context of product management, these philosophical roots encourage a focus on what is truly essential to achieving the product’s goals. This involves continuous questioning and scrutiny of features, designs, and processes to ensure that no element is superfluous.

Minimalism in Modern Business

In the business world, minimalism began gaining traction as a response to consumer fatigue with over-marketed and feature-saturated products. Companies like Apple have famously embraced minimalist design in their products and packaging, which has significantly contributed to their brand identity and consumer appeal.

This shift towards minimalism in business practices has been paralleled by a growing consumer preference for simplicity and authenticity. Today’s consumers often favor products that offer straightforward solutions and clear, honest communication.

Minimalist Strategies in Product Management

Adopting minimalist strategies in product management involves more than just reducing the number of product features. It includes simplifying communication channels, optimizing workflows, and eliminating bureaucratic overhead. This approach not only enhances product development but also improves team dynamics and efficiency.

Key strategies include:

  • Feature Prioritization: Rigorously evaluating each feature’s impact on the user experience and overall product goals.
  • Lean Processes: Streamlining development processes to eliminate waste and ensure that every step adds value.
  • Clear Communication: Reducing the noise in communication to ensure clarity and precision in team interactions and stakeholder engagements.