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Thursday, February 07, 2013


The Laws of Subtraction by Matthew E. May - Book review

The Laws of Subtraction

6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything

By: Matthew E. May

Published: October 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
ISBN-10: 0071795618
ISBN-13: 978-0071795616
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

"This is the art of subtraction: when you remove just he right thing in just the right way, something good usually happens", writes an innovation catalyst and the founder of EDIT Innovation, Matthew E. May, in his brilliant and transformational book The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything. The author describes how, in an age of excess and ever increasing complexity, the solution for cutting through the clutter is the counter-intuitive principle of subtraction.

Matthew May recognizes that the very idea of subtraction doesn't come naturally to people. The natural impulse for almost everyone is to add more and accumulate. The author offers the idea of subtraction as a form of thinking differently from the general population. Indeed, a person's brain, according to Matthew May, will undergo a complete rewiring as it incorporates and internalizes the principle of subtraction. Instead of the usual framing of the question as doing more with less, the author presents an alternative viewpoint of doing better with less. For Matthew May, doing better has no limitations.

Matthew E. May (photo left) understands that subtraction creates more engaging experience for both ourselves, and for others as well. The author emphasizes the value of the experience itself, as the process of creation taps into a person's emotions and becomes meaningful through participation in that inward journey. For the author, the experience transforms the individual through the act of discovering what is obvious for removal, and what is meaningful to add in its place.

The author distilled, from a wide range of disciplines, cultures, and thinkers, what he refers to as six laws of subtraction. Those six laws are as follows:

* What isn't there can often trump what is
* The simplest rules create the most effective experience
* Limiting information engages the imagination
* Creativity thrives under intelligent constraints
* Break is the important part of Breakthrough
* Doing something isn't always better than doing nothing.

For me, the power of the book is how Matthew E. May combines a compelling theoretical case for subtraction, with the practical skills and ideas for incorporating the principle into any innovation process. The six laws of subtraction form the focus of the book, offering insights into the principles of simplification. Matthew May demonstrates how to discover where minimizing excess is needed, and also how to determine the correct time to remove it.

Matthew May provides additional perspectives on subtraction as well, through the inclusion of guest contributions on each of the six laws. These additional viewpoints enhance and serve to further illustrate the empowerment and creative skills unleashed d by refocusing from constant addition and excess to removal and simplification. The author presents a strong case for improving the innovation process to increase overall competitiveness through the principle knowing what to remove and when to do it. This alternative approach, that replaces the emphasis on addition, with a process designed to remove the excess, presents a clear advantage to anyone who incorporates the six laws into their strategic an tactical planning.

I highly recommend the groundbreaking and thought process altering book The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything by Matthew E. May, to anyone seeking a fresh way of thinking and behaving that develops a unique organization and culture built around truly innovating in a different way. This book will change your ideas from those of the herd and their conventional wisdom, to one where the guiding principle becomes one of less is better.


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