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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review: The Laws of Subtraction

Less is indeed more in our age of excess in everything. Our lives have become complicated, overwhelming, and more demanding.  Award winning author Matthew E. May has an answer for this in his book The Laws ofSubtraction. Subtraction is defined simply as the art of removing anything excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use, or ugly … or the discipline to refrain from adding it in the first place.

The Laws of Subtraction provide insights and lessons towards removing the clutter and honing in on the essence in order to awaken the creativity and innovation that generally gets buried under a deluge of non-essential information. Through a series of excellent stories that serve as examples for his laws in action, May highlights the unique features of these laws and their applicability to everyday life, both professional and personal.

May has distilled years of research on achieving maximum effect through minimum means into six simple rules:

Law #1: What Isn't There Can Often Trump What Is
"When you reduce the number of doors that someone can walk through, more people walk through the one that you want them to walk through." – Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen

Law #2: The Simplest Rules Create the Most Effective Experience
“Keeping it simple isn't easy. By exploiting subtraction in innovation, we've been able to create an environment of freedom and creativity that allows us to thrive." – Brad Smith, CEO, Intuit

Law #3: Limiting Information Engages the Imagination
"Subtraction can mean the difference between a highly persuasive presentation and a long, convoluted, and confusing one. Why say more when you can say less?" – Carmine Gallo, author of The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty

Law #4: Creativity Thrives Under Intelligent Constraints
“Here’s the key to the conundrum for managers who want to stoke the innovation fire: That close cousin of scarcity, constraint, can indeed foster creativity.” – Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle

Law #5: Break Is the Important Part of Breakthrough
“If you kill the butterflies in your stomach, you’ll kill the dream. Embrace the feeling. Save the butterflies.” – Jonathan Fields, author of Uncertainty

Law #6: Doing Something Isn’t Always Better Than Doing Nothing
“When we’re faced with the greatest odds against us, often we need to edit rather than add.” – Chip Conley, cofounder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and author of Emotional Equations

In each chapter, May introduces you to a few illustrative examples of how a particular law was applied in a powerful way. He uses philosophy and science to explain why a certain law is so effective. One of the many reasons that reading this book is a pure pleasure is that his writing style, storytelling and illustrations reinforce his core message that less can be more... and more meaningful.

While writing this book, Matthew May invited some 50 people to be guest contributors, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences about subtraction. At the end of each chapter is a series of one page articles written by these "guest authors" giving their view of the topic. I found these to be some of the best part of the book. Each author has their own gems of wisdom. By distilling them to one page, we get the best from each author.

May both challenges you and helps you think a bit differently by using subtraction to better with less. The art of subtraction: when you remove just the right thing in just the right way, something good usually happens. So if you wanted to be informed and inspired about doing better with less than The Laws of Subtraction is your guide.

I highly recommend Matthew E. May’s The Laws of Subtraction for anyone who wants to simplify and improve the quality of work and life.

Disclosure: The publisher provided me a copy of The Laws of Subtraction for review.

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