Why Subtraction? - BusinessBlog : McGraw-Hill

Why Subtraction?

Guest post by Matthew E. May, author of The Laws of Subtraction.

The immediate question raised by the title of my book is: Why subtraction? Three reasons, really.

First, and most importantly, our 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. 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.

All of us, regardless of walk in life, face the difficult challenge of remaining relevant in a time of massive distraction and disruption. I’m convinced that subtraction–which I define as removing (or refraining from adding) anything obviously excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use, or ugly–holds the key to meeting the challenge.

Second, while I am far from mastering subtraction, I’ve been a student of it for over a decade: chasing down ideas of various kinds that are simple and powerful at the same time. I’ve tracked down and examined over 2,000 ideas that to some degree fit a single criterion: they achieve maximum effect through minimum means. Those ideas span a wide spectrum of human endeavor: business, government, academia, arts, athletics, science, architecture, design, technology, and psychology. It is the common characteristics and recognizable patterns in these ideas that give rise to the six laws of subtraction, which when taken together can be thought of as a code for the creative mind.

Third, subtraction is what people want me to talk about in speeches and seminars. They ask me for rules of thumb to help them design and deliver more compelling experiences for themselves, their companies, and their customers.

Finally, I’m fortunate to have met many brilliant and fascinating people who have embraced the power of less in their work and lives. Because their stories are so powerful, inspiring, and useful, I wanted to share them with a broader audience.

Now, there is an inherent contradiction at play in writing and publishing a book: it is an act of addition, not subtraction. If I could figure out how to get this particular portfolio of insight and inspiration into your head with an affordable form of magic that removes the written word entirely, I would.

My great hope for this book is that it helps you to think a bit differently by using subtraction to do better with less and find clever solutions to your most difficult challenges, whatever they may be. If I do my job right, this book will have great meaning for you. If I don’t, I’m sure you’ll let me know.

I often ask other authors to tell me the one thing they would like their readers to take away from their books. For The Laws of Subtraction, it is quite simply this:

When you remove just the right things in just the right way, something good happens.


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.

Matthew E. May is an award-winning author and noted thought leader on strategy and innovation. A popular speaker facilitator and coach he works with individuals and organizations all over the world.