Matthew E. May delivers lots of timely and relevant information in The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything, his engaging new book about doing better work and living more productively and meaningfully. As the title suggests, Matt stresses the value of thoughtfully and strategically paying attention to what is not essential and can be eliminated; the creative importance of emptiness and negative space; and the power of intelligently working within constraints. This is his fourth book since 2006, on top of leading his own Los Angeles-based “ideas agency,” Edit Innovation, and lots of public speaking and blogging.
He has extensive experience working with Toyota, and one of the aspects I particularly enjoyed was the material on Japanese and Zen-based thought and action. It is helpful as I continue to reflect on my recent first time in Tokyo, where I spent a week making presentations about my book. And I am also honored to be one of the 54 “Silhouettes in Subtraction,” people who were invited to write one page each in his book about how subtraction has been important in our life and work. These include thought-provoking essays from the likes of author/executive Chip Conley, presentations guru Nancy Duarte and Little Bets author Peter Sims.
There are a number of captivating illustrations and pictures; appropriate for a book that is at least partially about design. Matt discusses how ideas become creative expression and how things can be and have been built better. You will also find in-depth looks into the creation of the Lexus brand within Toyota; the iconic FedEx logo; the Exhibition Road “shared space” street in London and the thought process that goes into comics, from an interview with Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.
A premium is placed on things that are important yet difficult to achieve; such as reflection, quiet, calm and tranquility. On pages 192-198, he succinctly outlines some portals into these states; including mindfulness meditation, neurofeedback and retreats. These may not always be easy, yet the final one is certainly doable: “long, languid showers.”