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The Laws of Subtraction

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The Laws of Subtraction

6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Stop the chaos: Learn to cut through the clutter and subtract what you don’t need.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Insider's Take


Life is demanding, uncertain, noisy and cluttered. So now is the time to figure out what’s important and delete everything that is not. Business innovator Matthew E. May explains that he based his book on the 10th law in The Ten Laws of Simplicity by John E. Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design. The lesson is that you can subtract from your life “anything obviously excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use or ugly.” May draws on themes from the arts to help you do more with less. He defines six major rules, or “laws” of “the art of subtraction,” and enhances his advice with enlightening examples from art, design, comic books and architecture. He provides good models of subtraction in action, though this is not the typical how-to book; it’s lots more intriguing than that. Readers looking for specific one-two-three steps for paring down may be disappointed but will still find useful, thought-provoking guidance. getAbstract recommends this philosophical work to people interested in simplifying their lives and to artists, writers, designers, architects and other creatives.


The Minus Moment

Modern life is too complicated, loud, overbearing and excessive. Having too many choices may leave you overwhelmed. To simplify your life, delete or remove “anything obviously excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use or ugly.” To experience the way that having and doing less adds meaning and purpose to life, embrace a minimalistic approach. Just follow the six “laws of subtraction”:

Law 1: “What Isn’t There Can Often Trump What Is”

The FedEx logo embodies the first law of subtraction. Designed by Lindon Leader in 1994, this logo has won more than 40 design awards. Rolling Stone magazine called it “one of the eight best logos in the last 35 years.” Leader was inspired by other bold, simple designs that made effective use of white space, including the old Northwest Airlines logo.

When Leader created the logo, the company was still called Federal Express, but many customers referred to it as FedEx. CEO Fred Smith hired Leader to design a new logo that would be clearly visible on his trucks. Leader experimented with two different bold fonts and with spacing to create the capital E and lowercase <...

About the Author

Matthew E. May is an author, speaker and coach who helps major corporations with business innovation. He wrote The Elegant Solution, In Pursuit of Excellence and The Shibumi Strategy.

Comment on this summary

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    P. B. getAbstract 1 decade ago
    Everyone should read this summary and the book!
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    g. h. 1 decade ago
    This is truy great book and it is having interesting topic that we should be implementing our own lives.
    Need to have a summary.

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