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In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing Hardcover – May 19, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Advance Praise for In Pursuit of Elegance

In Pursuit of Elegance is a fascinating intellectual romp that will change the way you look at your surroundings. As he takes readers from Jackson Pollock paintings to Dutch intersections to the secret menu at In-N-Out Burger, Matt May reveals the hidden elements beneath genuine innovation. This book is surprising, compelling, and, yes, extremely elegant.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

“As elegantly written as it is provocative, In Pursuit of Elegance makes a convincing—nay, worldview-shifting—argument that less is best.”
—Ori Brafman, coauthor of Sway

“Enlightening. Makes a compelling case for doing more with less by optimizing the expenditure of one’s assets and resources. That’s something anyone can and should put into practice.”
—Kevin Hunter, president, CALTY Design Research, Inc., Toyota Design Network

“What a masterpiece! The definitive guide to the ‘less is more’ mind-set. I meant to only take a quick glance at In Pursuit of Elegance, but once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. In a world where everything keeps getting more complicated and overwhelming, Matthew May shows us that if we start looking for things to take out, things to stop doing, and intelligent shortcuts, we will all be happier, do superior work, and live in a better world.”
—Robert I. Sutton, Stanford professor and author of The No Asshole Rule

About the Author

MATTHEW E. MAY is the author of the critically acclaimed The Elegant Solution, which won the Shingo Research Prize for Excellence. A popular speaker, he lectures to corporations, governments, and universities around the world, and works confidentially with creative teams and senior leaders at a number of top Fortune-listed companies. He spent nearly a decade as a close adviser to Toyota, and his articles have appeared in national publications such as USA Today, Strategy+Business, and Quality Progress. He has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business, he lives in Southern California.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (May 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385526490
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385526494
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,223,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Martin P. Cohen on May 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I fail to see what is so great about this book. The idea of elegant solutions is nothing new. The author's definition of elegance is anything but elegant. Consider this definition of elegant instead - "simple, intuitive and powerful."

The book did a lot of rambling. It could be cut by at least a third without loss. I found many of the examples to be contrived, like the California fast food joint with the small menu and an additional secret menu. Does this strike you as elegant?

The one thing that I have praise for is the presentation of the concept of symmetry. The author showed how mathematicians came up with a definition for a term that many may initially feel is undefinable. The mathematical definition of symmetry is a good example of elegance. I disagree, however, with the insistence that elegant solutions must always be symmetric.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First of all, I have well over 2000 biz books in my library and this is one of my favorite books. It takes a very difficult subject, elegance, and does a credible job explaining what it is and what it isn't.

This is not a step by step book to creating elegant solutions or products. Rather, it presents a compelling argument on why subtraction can lead to elegance. Why doing nothing is so difficult for humans and organizations but is many times the right thing "to do". Why in-action or restraining your brain from wanting to add can lead to breakthroughs in elegant design.

The author works hard to give examples from a wide range of disciplines. Because of this broad stroke of the brush, the only complaint would be that he does not delve deep enough into some of these examples. But by leaving some space, it made me want to dig deeper into some of the examples. Engaging a readers curiosity to seek more is exactly what elegance is all about. And I think the author balanced this perfectly.

Do yourself a favor...ignore the negative reviews on here. Under no circumstance does this book deserve less than 4 stars. It is easy to read and engages your brain in a provocative way...what more can you ask from a book?
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Format: Hardcover
I have an interest in urban design. The discussion of the Monderman intersection and why it works so well in handling traffic and preventing accidents is worth the price of the book all by itself. (This is a roundabout-style intersection paved with a textured surface, lacking a traffic light.) Since I read this book, I can hardly pass an intersection without thinking how much better it would work as a Monderman intersection, and how easy and cheap the conversion would be. Maybe you're not interested in traffic flow, but May puts in enough off-the-wall examples to get nearly anyone thinking. Recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
To say that his book is about lean would be a disservice. It's much more than that. The stories and analyses record Matt's search for creative ideas and innovative solutions to problems in a surprisingly wide range of fields, from Jackson Pollack to the Sopranos, from traffic circles in Europe to video rental stores, from sudoku to corporate HR policies. I don't buy into all of his examples, but the overall force of his argument is compelling and very, very thought-provoking. Certainly, I won't look at a product boasting a "New & Improved!" sticker in the same way again.

Matt proposes that truly "elegant" solutions have a wonderful -- and elusive -- combination of simplicity and power. We don't have to lard up a product with new features to solve customer problems any more than we need a 175-page employee manual to tell workers what we expect them to do.

What I love about the book -- and what I'm still thinking about two weeks after reading it -- is the challenge of creating elegant solutions to the ongoing information management problems I see everyday.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The reviews of this book seem to be bipolar. You either love it or not. I'm with the latter. I had to force myself to keep reading it. I kept stumbling over historical examples that were then force-fit into the author's categories and I found it nearly impossible to take away anything from each chapter. For me, the best reading was the chapter on Laws of Subtraction and even that left me feeling empty. I have to agree with others that that the author rambles and doesn't even follow his own principals in attempting to write the book in an elegant manner. The best example is the chapter on Seeking Symmetry. He attempts to conclude the chapter with "There are a few valuable points to take away..." and then goes on to ramble for another 6-7 pages with more trivia. The book drove me nuts. If you're looking for a book with practical takeaways, this is not it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Elegance is such an important concept - it deserves a book. This one is the best I've found. It not only provides an overview and examples, but also outlines some general principles that will help your own thinking about elegance.
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Format: Paperback
If you want an elegant review of this book, just read my review title.

If you need to hear more, the book is inelegant because the author talks about many interesting things, but his discussion is rambling and often the connection to the concept of elegance feels forced. The experience is like reading a collection of magazine articles thrown together to give (only) the appearance of a coherent book. Clearly, this is not the work of a serious researcher working at the true frontiers of understanding, but rather a quasi-journalist trying to impress the business crowd by making mountains out of molehills.

You can save yourself some time by skipping the book and realizing that elegance simply means 'achieving something with high efficiency to an extent that is surprising and possibly also beautiful'. That's not a revelation - all capable designers and problem solvers already knew that.

I'm tempted to give one star, but will instead give two because at least there's some interesting stuff in the book. But again, walk away if your goal is to learn something profound about elegance.
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