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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laws of Subtraction
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...
Published on November 28, 2012 by Jim Estill

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More subtraction is needed
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...
Published 21 months ago by Reader


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More subtraction is needed, April 5, 2013
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Reader (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (Hardcover)
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.
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10 of 10 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
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This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (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.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laws of Subtraction, November 28, 2012
This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (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.
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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, October 11, 2012
This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (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.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading, November 21, 2012
This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (Hardcover)
I am a big fan of May's previous works. I'd put In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing on my top-100 list. After dabbling in business fiction in his last book, May is back with a more conventional business text--and he doesn't disappoint.

In an era of feature-creep and superfluous functionality, May shows how it's often best to do nothing or remove things. May's examples are fascinating, from the WSJ artist who creates those funky drawings to the design of streets and urban areas to Albert Einsten. Backed by solid research in neuroscience and psychology, May's central premise hits home with me: less is more.

Over the last few years, I've become an Apple convert because PCs and many applications tend to include too many "features." Something tells me that May would wholeheartedly agree.

Some of the 50 essays from thought leaders were more interesting than others. Truth be told, I would have preferred 50 additional pages of insights from the author himself. I just like the way the guy thinks and writes.

I highly recommend the book and look forward to more from May.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A complilaton of cases and one pagers much more than a book on a solid premise, February 12, 2014
This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (Hardcover)
My purchase decision, quite an impulsive one, can be attributed to two attractions I came upon.

First, the six laws/rules below:-
1. What isn't there can often trump what it is.
2. The simplest rules create the most effective experience
3. Limiting information engages the imagination
4. Creativity thrives under intelligent constraints
5. Break is the important part of breakthrough
6. Doing something isn't always better than doing nothing.

Second, a brilliant idea on page xii:-
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, the decision becomes exponentially easier and simpler.

What a pity that I got very mixed feeling after I finished it.

Whilst I love 70% of the one pagers (by various authors of blogs and books in the end of each chapter/law), I also ran into many stuff that do not fit the six laws well. Pardon me for saying that it still can be a good reserve in your bookshelf and wash room. For serious self help book lovers who need a quick fix, this is definitely not one on their top priority list.

p.s. Below please find some favorite passages of mine for your reference.
Neuroscientists have shown, using fMRI, that addition and subtraction require different brain circuitry. Pgxiii
Wise men filter insights when others get lost in piles and piles of knowledge....Wisdom is all about distilling down the complexity of life, with all its distractions, to what's at its core. - Chip Conley Pg24
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? - T.S. Eliot pg24
Your company doesn't become a customer service laggard because of a single customer service error with an important client. It is the series of repeated actions or issues that remain unresolved that creates a pattern of behavior and thinking that leads to a weakening service culture. Pg24
What if the equation for wisdom is wisdom is equals the square root of experience? Pg24
A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. - Lao Tzu Pg56
Impossible. Unheard of. Crazy. Those are the words of breakthrough. Those are fighting words to the right person......"That's the secret," as Brian Muirhead says. "You have to point your team, your people, toward a dramatic destination." Pg117
It's far better to do really well at fewer things than moderately well at many things. Pg140
First, it's more important to listen than to talk; second, even a timely wrong decision is better than no decision; and third, don't halfheartedly wound problems - kill them dead. - Kelly Johnson, Head of Lockheed's Skunk Works Project which built U-2, SR-71 and F-117. Pg157
It's better to be a pirate than join the navy. - Steve Jobs pg160
Katherine Hepburn was asked the secret to the success of her career. "Elimination! I have eliminated everyone and everything from my life that interferes with what I want to do and how I want to do it. Even Luddie, my former husband and dearest friend still. He simply had to go! pg172
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do Better with Less!, April 5, 2014
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This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (Hardcover)
Often times we are faced with an overwhelming number of options, making it increasingly difficult to make both business and personal decisions. As a result, learning how to simplify things and eliminate complexity has become a vital skill. May provides a framework for how to make decisions and find clever solutions by “doing better with less.” The book has six simple rules: (1) What isn’t there can often trump what is. (2) The simplest rules create the most effective experience. (3) Limiting information engages the imagination. (4) Creativity thrives under intelligent restraints. (5) Break is the important part of breakthrough. (6) Doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing. Of these, the last one sticks out to me the most because it is so counterintuitive. However, I now understand that sometimes taking a break from normal business can allow you to clear and calm your brain, resulting in unexpected insights and great ideas.

My only critique of the book is that he provides an abundance of examples, which contradicts the idea of simplicity. While it was helpful to read about some of the experiences of the author, business executives and leaders featured, I think the points could have been illustrated with less narratives! Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to anyone seeking help making decisions or developing a more focused strategy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An elegant tool, if used right, February 18, 2014
In The Laws of Subtraction, May elegantly explains why trimming the fat from ideas, workdays, processes, and other aspects of our lives can lead to gleaning insights.

May invites wisdom not only from his own experiences, but from many creative professionals from around the world. The insights can be difficult to interpret without some imagination, as the stories told are not provided in a clear-cut "If you do this, you'll get this" manner. Instead, each bit of wisdom provided in this book is offered in a way that requires the reader to think — if only a little — about how they can take what they're reading and apply it appropriately to their own life or situation. Which is exactly why I feel this book is worthwhile for any creative, professional or otherwise.

Do yourself a favor and pickup this book to read over a few days. Give yourself the time to think on the lessons shared, and you'll find yourself instantly identifying areas where you can simplify your own life and subtract the things that are hindering your work or passions.

Disclaimer: I am one of those invited to provide a anecdote for the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Savor a more productive life: Some Lesson, March 15, 2013
This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (Hardcover)
How clever of Matthew May to design Laws of Subtraction as what Frans Johansson dubs a "hook" The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World - something concrete around which we can gain clarity in our own thinking and are pulled into contributing relevant ideas to his six smart laws to simplify work and life.

That's a valuable companion concept to Peter Guber's advice, in Tell to Win Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story: create purposeful narratives. Then you can pull others into your story because they can see a role they want to play in it. In their re-telling of your story, they reshape it, making it theirs, more multi-faceted and thus more relevant to more kinds of people the more it is shared. Certainly that expanding, pass-along effect can create value for any kind of organization.

May's book-as-hook provides wise and concrete ways that businesses can accomplish more in the wake of world of "excess" information by subtracting the extraneous.

He uses another hook that you can emulate to boost the visibility of your book or other project. For some of his laws, he builds upon other well-known experts' ideas, thus boosting their bragging rights. They will probably tout his ideas, attached to theirs.

Methinks May's inclusive approach can also be applied to our personal, social and civic lives, as it helps us focus on the few, most meaningful things we want to accomplish, and how and with whom. That's a sound path for savoring experiences with others.

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. Grabbing onto his hook I've added a Kare's Corollary Law to each of his six, hoping it spurs you to do the same and share it here.

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

Kare's Corollary Law

Entice yet don't overwhelm would-be customers by offering them just three versions of your service or product, making all three visible at once. Show a low-cost yet enticing basic option; and one full of all the bells and whistles, or a premium parts the package with more parts; and a middle option that is literally displayed in the middle. Subtracting other distracting options in this way spurs more people to buy something, and the average buy will be bigger. That's my takeaway from Barry Schwartz' The Paradox of Choice The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less where he, like Matthew May, suggests that too many options often don't make us smarter or happier with what we choose, if we do choose anything.

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

Kare's Corollary Law

Setting just a few rules makes it seems like you really thought about them and intend to make them stick, further, they are more likely to be remembered and followed. Plus this approach is more likely to create, what John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, in A New Culture of Learning, call a "bounded and unbounded" environment in which people are more likely to learn and invent tacitly, fueled by their passionate interests.

In such a culture people feel more free to self-organize into teams as the need or opportunity arises, and add their own relevant Rules of Engagement if they feel they need them. With fewer rules and more freedom, we are more likely to tinker, suggests John Seely Brown A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change In this increasingly complex yet connected world, it behooves organizations to go "social," spurring self-organizing inventiveness around that organization's core mission.

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 ExperienceThe Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty

Kare's Corollary Law

Get specific sooner. Upfront provide the specific detail that proves your general conclusion, not the reverse, which is our natural tendency. Yet too many details can act as underbrush, obscuring your core point. Make your message almost as vital as AIR: Actionable. Interestingness. Relevant [...] Read about the rest of May's insightful laws for a simpler life at my Forbe's column [...]
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Ideas -- Not Quite What I Expected, January 31, 2013
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This review is from: The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (Hardcover)
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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The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything
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