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The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything [Hardcover]

Matthew May
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 2 2012

Winner of a 2013 Small Business Book Award for Economics

The world is more overwhelming than ever before. Our work is deeper and more demanding than ever. Our businesses are more complicated and difficult to manage than ever. Our economy is more uncertain than ever. Our resources are scarcer than ever. There is endless choice and feature overkill in all but the best experiences. Everybody knows everything about us. The simple life is a thing of the past. Everywhere, there's too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right. The noise is deafening, the signal weak. Everything is too complicated and time-sucking.

Welcome to the age of excess everything. Success in this new age looks different and demands a new skill: Subtraction.

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. And if subtraction is the new skill to be acquired, we need a guide to developing it.

Enter The Laws of Subtraction.

Through a dozen of the most compelling stories of breakthrough innovation culled from 2,000 cases and bolstered by uniquely personal essays contributed by over 50 of the most creative minds in business today, The Laws of Subtraction outlines six simple rules for winning in the age of excess everything, and delivers a single yet powerful idea: When you remove just the right things in just the right way, something very good happens.

The Laws of Subtraction features contributions by over 50 highly regarded thinkers, creatives, and executives.

On 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

On 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

On 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

On 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

On 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

On 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


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About the Author

MATTHEW E. MAY is the author of three award-winning books: The Elegant Solution, In Pursuit of Elegance, and The Shibumi Strategy. A popular speaker, creativity coach, and close advisor on innovation to companies such as ADP, Edmunds, Intuit, and Toyota, he is a regular contributor to the American Express OPEN Forum Idea Hub and the founder of Edit Innovation, an ideas agency based in Los Angeles.


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
While writing his latest book, Matthew May invited more than 70 people to be guest contributors, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences about subtraction. More than 50 accepted and I was among them, pleased to be included. That said, only when I read the book in final form did I understand and appreciate what his specific objectives were. As with the objectives for The Elegant Solution and In Pursuit of Elegance, he achieves them fully and eloquently. May observes, "neuroscientists have shown, using magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that addition and subtraction require different brain circuitry" from what many (most?) people prefer, "hardwired to add and accumulate, hoard and store."

This book offers to guide new and innovative thinking on how people can make better decisions (to add as well as to subtract) and produce better results by artfully and intelligently using less (or more). "The Laws of Subtraction is meant to be a guide to creating more engaging [begin italics] experiences [end italics] not only for others but for ourselves." There seems to be remarkable agreement over many centuries about the potential benefits of subtraction, simplification, reduction, etc. The title of my review is from the Tao Te Ching, dating back to 6th century BCE. It is also noteworthy that the insightful quotations about the subtractive mindset, strategically inserted throughout the book, are selected from a wide and diverse range of sources.

May offers six "simple" rules or laws that are, he explains, based on one of the laws in John Maeda's brilliant book, The Laws of Simplicity. Here is #10: "Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful." (Maeda is another of the contributors.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Get Rid of the Excess! Dec 19 2012
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Ever wish your life was simpler when it comes to achieving the big things like finding a career, getting married, building a business, or developing a life-changing concept? Business coach and corporate advisor, Matthew May, may have some timely advice for you in this motivational, self-help guide to becoming a more streamlined and on-task person; and you don't even have to be business-oriented to appreciate the power of its wisdom. What makes this book so meaningful for the likes of me who struggles daily with emotional and intellectual excess is that the real solutions come from the experiences of fifty people who have become effective leaders in society because they have learned how to unclutter their lives on the road to success. The heart of May's message, while initially counter-intuitive, is simple to apply: develop and execute a plan that doesn't distract, confuse and overwhelm us in our drive to reach personal goals. Ultimately, the decisions we make should contain a design that allows us to see more opportunities than meet the eye. May uses the beauty and simplicity of creative graphic design to illustrate how to see and use those emerging new ideas. This process entails looking for patterns and spatial relationships that are not obvious to the muddled mind. It then becomes imperative that we learn to incorporate this information into lifestyle choices that makes our physical space easier, safer, and more efficient to move around in. Apps like Mixel help us visualize a better world by allowing us to intelligently rearrange at will the parts to get a better grasp of the whole. Additional information is available on the importance of getting emotionally engaged in the task of simplifying life, remaining focused on getting results, and being willing to fine-tune the process in the interests of eliminating that which doesn't work. For the author, life is all about intelligently seeking the easiest and simplest route to success as seen in the shape our dreams take.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More subtraction is needed April 5 2013
By Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was kind of disappointed with this book because I feel it did not deliver on the premise of its title. The book is a collection of anecdotal stories, by the author and by many others, that sometimes describe how simplifying a product or process yielded a better result. Yet many of the stories do not really address the notion of "subtraction" at all, and meander over a lot of interesting but irrelevant territory. The stories are collected under half a dozen headings that the author calls "laws," but really are not even hypotheses or guidelines. They are, rather, attempts to sort the anecdotes into categories that are, on the whole, rather unilluminating. I had the impression that the author collected all these stories and then tried to fit them into his premise for the book. I think the author had a good idea - it is all in the book's title - but, for me, at least, really failed to deliver. This subject needs more focus, more thought, more depth -- more subtraction.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laws of Subtraction Nov. 28 2012
By Jim Estill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am just off US Thanksgiving, Black Friday and now Cyber Monday. Much of it is about consumerism. So my answer - reading a book by Matthew E. May called The Laws of Subtraction - 6 Simple Ways for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything.

I like to think I like simple but I do not live simple in many ways. The recent hurricane showed me my dependence on little things like power, internet and hot water.

The Laws of Subtraction is mostly about design - art and music. I apply much of it to life though.

May starts with a simplified version of John Maeda's (The Laws of Simplicity) tenth law:

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 most important part of breakthrough
Doing something isn't always better than doing nothing.

These become the 6 laws and 6 chapters of the book.

At the end of each chapter is a series of one page articles written by "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.

Less is more in design. It can be more in life too.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Subtract about 35,000 words and you'd have a mighty nice book May 9 2013
By Colleen Wainwright - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book suffers from the affliction it's earnestly trying to help us avoid: excess. It contains some great stories, some useful techniques, a scant handful of useful personal essays from other contributors, but they're buried in flabby prose. I'm guessing it would be perfect at around 80pp: perfect Kindle-single length. Skim for ideas and resources, then go to the primary source material that interests you.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "To attain knowledge, add things every day. To add wisdom, subtract things every day." Lao Tzu Oct. 11 2012
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While writing his latest book, Matthew May invited more than 70 people to be guest contributors, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences about subtraction. More than 50 accepted and I was among them, pleased to be included. That said, only when I read the book in final form did I understand and appreciate what his specific objectives were. As with the objectives for The Elegant Solution and In Pursuit of Elegance, he achieves them fully and eloquently. May observes, "neuroscientists have shown, using magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that addition and subtraction require different brain circuitry" from what many (most?) people prefer, "hardwired to add and accumulate, hoard and store."

This book offers to guide new and innovative thinking on how people can make better decisions (to add as well as to subtract) and produce better results by artfully and intelligently using less (or more). "The Laws of Subtraction is meant to be a guide to creating more engaging [begin italics] experiences [end italics] not only for others but for ourselves." There seems to be remarkable agreement over many centuries about the potential benefits of subtraction, simplification, reduction, etc. The title of my review is from the Tao Te Ching, dating back to 6th century BCE. It is also noteworthy that the insightful quotations about the subtractive mindset, strategically inserted throughout the book, are selected from a wide and diverse range of sources.

May offers six "simple" rules or laws that are, he explains, based on one of the laws in John Maeda's brilliant book, The Laws of Simplicity. Here is #10: "Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful." (Maeda is another of the contributors.) He devotes a separate chapter to each, concluding with a cluster of guest commentaries that are most relevant to the given law. I appreciate his clever use of a "Spotlight on" device which features mini-commentaries on topics such as "What Isn't There" (Pages 10-11), "Connecting the Dots" (80-81), "Constraints" (127), "Skunk Work" (159), and "Doing Nothing" (190).

These are among the dozens of other passages that caught my eye:

o The Zen of Nothing (Pages 18-20)
o A Sense of Place (38-49)
o Let It Be (51-56)
o Connecting the Dots (70-74)
o Audience as Author (93-95)
o A Tale of Two 25s (118-123)
o The Chains of Creativity (128-132)
o Breaking Barriers (151-158)
o Daydream Believin' (179-184)

I agree about both the difficulties and the benefits of making better decisions during what many regard as an Age of Excess. May observes, "At the heart of every difficult decision lie three tough choices: What to pursue versus what to ignore. What to leave in versus what to leave out. What to do versus what to don't. I have discovered that if you focus on the second half of each choice -- what to ignore, what to leave out, what to don't -- the decision becomes exponentially easier and simpler. The key is to remove the stupid stuff: anything obviously excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use or ugly."

However, I think we should keep in mind that the power of subtraction, reduction, elimination, etc. can have both positive and negative imoact. I learned years ago that only severe pruning could save our crepe myrtle trees during a period of sub-zero temperature. But to extend the gardening metaphor, we must not rip out seedlings to see how well they're growing. Thank you, Matthew May, for your latest book. I think it is your most entertaining as well as most informative and valuable book...thus far.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Ideas -- Not Quite What I Expected Jan. 31 2013
By David Wilhoite - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Did a nice job of describing the 6 laws of subtraction and how they support the author's thesis. Provides good examples with good descriptions. Very thoughtful. Was looking for something more personally oriented rather than marketing oriented.
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