NOVEMBER2012The Laws of Subtraction6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everythingby Matthew MayBetween the LinesCreate space for meaning.QUICK OVERVIEWMost people have a lifetime’s worth of experience writing to-do lists. But haveyou ever thought about writing a to-don’t list? That counterintuitive idea is one ofmany suggestions found in The Laws of Subtraction, the newest book by innovativeguru Matthew May. Inspired by John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity, May defines sixlaws that advocate reducing options and setting boundaries to achieve maximumcreativity, efficiency and success. He weaves inspiring quotes, examples ofcorporate success and narratives from business leaders into each chapter tocreate a thought-provoking book. Ultimately, The Laws of Subtraction encouragesreaders to consider whether or not today’s unlimited choices and glut of optionshelp or hamper people in their quest to succeed. This summary offers insightsfrom Laws 1, 2 and 5.McGraw-Hill 2012 Matthew E. MayISBN: 9780071795616240 pages, 24.00SUCCESS PointsIn this book you’ll learn:APPLY AND ACHIEVEIn a book guiding readers to more innovative thinking, efficiency andcreativity, you wouldn’t expect to find a chapter devoted to doing nothing. ButMay’s sixth law spotlights the importance of doing exactly that—or as close toit as we can achieve. Some of our most creative moments can come from thosetimes when we step out of our normal routines and let our minds wander. Infact, nonstop activity can actually be less productive than focusing away fromproblems and letting the mind work quietly. Looking for a way to take theseimportant mental breaks? Why not take a few moments to meditate or even takea nap. Another option is pulsing, which is one of the easiest ways to build breaksinto your day. Simply work in 90-minute cycles separated by short breaks.During those breaks, take a walk, doodle, listen to music—give your brain achance to renew itself. Other options include retreats, travel or simply walking,which actually promotes creativity. Whichever way works best for you, get outof your own way today and let your brain do what it needs to Why taking breaks isessential to success That the universe isgoverned by simple rules,which we violate repeatedly How to retrain your brainand stop devoting attentionto thoughts that aren’tproductive How too many rules andregulations kill innovationSUCCESS BOOK SUMMARIES

The Laws of SubtractionI’m sure you have a story like this. Preparing for ourannual family camping trip, I perform the obligatoryequipment check. Of course, all the flashlights need newD-cell batteries. Off to the local hardware store I go,since we don’t stockpile batteries in the refrigerator like somefolks do. When I return home, the fun begins. I’m not talkingabout the camping trip. I’m talking about trying to get thebatteries open. The plastic packaging is super heavy-duty, slickand hard to grasp. It’s deceiving, because it looks like it shouldeasily pull apart. It doesn’t, and for the life of me, I can’t get thething open. Feelings of inadequacy creep in: I must be missingsomething it can’t be this hard, can it? I begin blame shifting,wondering what possessed the package designers to think theyneeded this clearly excessive level of protection for a six-dollarpurchase. A nearby package of light bulbs—perhaps the mostfragile household items on the planet, protected by nothingmore than a flimsy bit of corrugated cardboard—is laughingat me. Frustration is mounting, as I’ve already wasted fourminutes, and I need to open three of these. I grab the kitchenscissors and try to cut into the case, but the double reinforcededge stops me cold. I need to somehow pierce the softer middlewith something sharp. Steak knife to the rescue. I’m able tomake a cut not without a good bit of muscle, mind you, butI’m in. I try prying apart the opening, slicing my thumb on therazor-sharp plastic edge I’ve created. I’m bleeding. That’s whenthe cursing starts.You can imagine the rest.You’re right to think this is a silly story about a benignannoyance. I tell it only to introduce in a lighthearted way achallenge far more serious and frustrating than trying to breakopen a package of batteries. It’s the larger and more seriousproblem we all face: thriving in a world of excess everything.The world is more overwhelming than ever before. Ourwork is deeper and more demanding than ever. Our businessesare more complicated and difficult to manage than ever. Oureconomy is more uncertain than ever. Our resources are scarcerthan ever. There is endless choice and feature overkill in all butthe best experiences. Everybody knows everything about us.The simple life is a thing of the past. Everywhere, there’s toomuch of the wrong stuff, and not enough of the right. The noiseis deafening, the signal weak. Everything is too complicatedand time-sucking. Excess everything is choking us. Amazingly,as consumers, we seem to put up with it. We tolerate theintolerable: stupidly standing in some silly line, searching forPage2what we want through the convoluted floor plan of the localmammoth warehouse store, or struggling through the mazeof whatever automated voicemail system we’re up against, oropening a package of D-cell batteries.You’d think that if we hate all the excess as a consumer, wewould absolutely detest it as a producer. But we don’t. Thereason we don’t is that we see no clear and immediate path toturning things around. We know that the situation isn’t goingaway. We know that we can’t run or hide from it. So we shrugour shoulders and go along with the herd.“To attain knowledge, add thingsevery day. To attain wisdom,subtract things every day.”—Lao TzuAt the heart of every difficult decision lie three tough choices:What to pursue versus what to ignore? What to leave in versus whatto leave out? What to do versus what to don’t? I have discoveredthat if you focus on the second half of each choice—what toignore, what to leave out, what to don’t—the decision becomesexponentially easier and simpler. The key is to remove thestupid stuff: anything obviously excessive, confusing, wasteful,unnatural, hazardous, hard to use, or ugly. (Battery packagingexhibits all seven qualities in a rather inglorious way.) Better yet,refrain from adding them in the first place.This is the art of subtraction: when you remove just the rightthing in just the right way, something good usually happens.LAW #1: WHAT ISN’T THERE CANOFTEN TRUMP WHAT ISIf you know what to do and how to do it, you can use thislaw to achieve success in the real world. You can cut throughthe noise and confusion of a chaotic world so that even themost complex things make more sense. You can draw anddirect attention to what matters most so that your products andservices have more meaning for others. You can focus energyand make your strategy more effective. You can generate greatervisual and verbal impact to make your message stick and stay.SUCCESS.comSUCCESS BOOK SUMMARIES

The Laws of SubtractionFedEx used Law #1 to dramatically change their image and createone of the most indelible logos ever designed—one that helpedbreathe new life into an already strong brand and simultaneouslysignaled the world that the company was going places. What’s specialabout the FedEx logo isn’t the vibrant colors or bold lettering. It’s thewhite arrow that exists between the E and the x.The ability to use patterns to make meaningful relationships outof seemingly unrelated elements is a uniquely human attribute, andthe hallmark of creativity. What really matters in all of this is to beaware that these principles of perception exist, and to be able touse them like Lindon Leader did when he created the FedEx logo.We need to pay attention to the fact that what isn’t there can oftentrump what is.This is the art of subtraction:when you remove just the rightthing in just the right way,something good usually happens.The Zen of NothingDuring my time with Toyota, I became interested in Easternculture. I had to, really, because much of my job was designingprograms that incorporated the views of both the Japaneseand U.S. management. Eastern and Western ways of lookingat the world are often quite different, and often diametricallyopposed. Reconciling that tension in a harmonious way meantI had to understand the Asian perspective, which necessitatedunderstanding the genesis of certain methods. I traced several to12th century Zen philosophy.What struck me was the reverence given to emptiness as anaesthetic ideal. One of my favorite Zen-related words in Japaneseis Ma, not because it’s one of the few I can pronounce correctly,but because of what it means, and what it doesn’t. The roughtranslation is “interval of space or time.” But even that doesn’tquite capture the essence, and no English words or concepts existto accurately define or describe it. For me, it means being fullyaware of what is and isn’t there, being conscious of how they worktogether to involve the viewer in an altogether new experience,and understanding that to ignore either is to miss the true meaningof the whole.Page3According to a course on Japanese history taught atColumbia University, “Ma is not something that is created bycompositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in theimagination of the human who experiences these elements.”And that is the whole point of the first law of subtraction.LAW #2: THE SIMPLEST RULESCREATE THE MOST EFFECTIVEEXPERIENCEThe effect of any experience is determined by how activelyengaged we are as we move through time and space in aparticular setting. How we perceive these two dimensions—how they land on us in a specific event, how we interpret thefeeling we get—is what gives the elements of time and spacereal meaning. The more enjoyable, expedient, and efficient anexperience is, the more meaning we give it.When you focus on these elements of experience, youbegin to think differently. You begin to search for natural andself-organizing patterns of human behavior. You begin to askhow to exploit those patterns for good, rather than just controlthem. You discover that the most effective experience canbest be achieved not by demanding that people comply with amandate from on high, or conform to an exhaustive set of rigidregulations, but by one or two simple rules. You realize thatthose simple rules can often emerge from the right context,need not be stated to be understood by everyone, and producethe highest levels of participation. You understand that tellingpeople what to do isn’t nearly as effective as inspiring them whatto do. This is the stuff of meaning.Making Complexity WorkChaos theory tells us that everything in our natural world—from microorganisms to weather patterns to the growth ofpopulations—is a part of a complex system that is moving towardequilibrium. Just because something looks chaotic or unorganizeddoesn’t mean it is.The impatient human mind seeks order and symmetry, and whenwe don’t see it immediately we are compelled to quickly impose it.It’s when in our impatience we fail to look beyond the obvious thatwe rush in with our rigid regulations and hierarchies in an attemptto control what is already in balance that we tip things the otherway and get the exact opposite of what we really want.SUCCESS.comSUCCESS BOOK SUMMARIES

The UnPolicy at NetflixAt Netflix, the streaming video and DVD-by-mail servicethat has upended the brick-and-mortar video rentalbusiness, vacation policy is bold and simple: the roughly600 salaried employees can take as much time off asthey want for as long as they want—provided that theirmanagers know where they are and that their work iscovered. Nobody tracks vacation days.In other words, the Netflix vacation policy is to have nopolicy at all. It hasn’t always been so. In 2004, Netflixtreated holidays the old-fashioned way: everyone getsa set number of days each year, use them or workthe system to get paid for time not taken. Employeesrecognized that this arrangement was at odds with howthey really did their work-from-home jobs: respondingto emails on weekends, solving problems online athome at night. Since Netflix wasn’t tracking how manyhours people were logging each workday, why should ittrack how many holidays people were taking each workyear? Good point, said management. So the companyscrapped its formal plan.“Rules and policies and regulations and stipulationsare innovation killers. People do their best work whenthey’re unencumbered,” says Steve Swasey, Netflix’svice president for corporate communication. “If you’respending a lot of time accounting for the time you’respending, that’s time you’re not innovating.”The reason the simplest rules create the most effectiveexperience is because our universe is governed by simplerules. Yet in our false belief that we have better answers,we violate them repeatedly, nearly always to our detriment.Brilliant thinkers over the course of civilization havedevoted their lives to understanding and explaining hownature works. While ignoring that information stifles ourcreativity and stunts our effectiveness, exploiting it can beincredibly powerful.My guidance is simply this: whatever problem you’retrying to solve, look first for naturally occurring patternsand rhythms. If you don’t see them at first, strip away theobvious things that might be obscuring them. The secondlaw of subtraction is natural. We need to keep that in mindwhen we are creating, designing or building anything.Page4LAW #5: BREAK IS THE IMPORTANTPART OF BREAKTHROUGHThe mysteries of the mind and brain are many and complex.Neuroscience, through the magic of technology, is just beginningto unravel some of them. Given that my livelihood revolvesaround creativity and change—in fact, creating change—I am avoracious consumer of all things neuro. I’m especially fascinatedby neuroplasticity.Neuroplasticity is the mind’s ability to change the brain.Neuroscience can now confi rm that our mental machinations doalter the physical structure of our brain matter. So, when youchange your mind, you change your brain. This is great news formost of us, because the universal issue facing everyone in thisage of excessive complexity is change. Whether it’s breakinga habit, adopting a new one, coming up with new and originalideas, shifting a business focus, changing behaviors, changingcompany culture, or changing the world. At the heart of thematter is the issue of breaking out of well-grooved patterns—minds and mindsets—and creating new ones. In other words,unlocking the brain.I first met Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a practicing neuropsychiatristaffiliated with UCLA, in 2008. What’s interesting about Jeffis that he deals with one of the most prevalent, challengingand debilitating patterns in the brain—Obsessive-CompulsiveDisorder (OCD). He’s an internationally recognized authoritywho developed a successful behavior therapy at the UCLA Schoolof Medicine for patients suffering from OCD, called the UCLAFour Steps.And here’s the thing: he doesn’t use drugs to treat patients.He teaches them to reset and rewire their brain by changing howthey think.It’s when we believe we can make a break that we break throughwhatever barriers may be holding us in place. This is the reasonI am drawn to Jeff ’s work in the first place. It’s not because I’mcurious about OCD per se, but because of what he knows aboutbreaking free of those kinds of fiercely strong patterns. If hismethod helps people with OCD, doesn’t it make sense that weshould be able to use it in making any kind of change?As he described the four steps to me, the answer becameobvious: Yes.Step 1: Re-label“The first step is to Re-label a given thought, feeling, orbehavior as something else,” Jeff says. “An unwanted thoughtSUCCESS.comSUCCESS BOOK SUMMARIES

TheBookLawsTitle of SubtractionThe Laws of SubtractionLaw #1: What isn’t there can often trump what is. Inother words, cut through the chaos and focus on whatreally matters. Do that, and even the most complex thingsmake sense.Law #2: The simplest rules create the most effectiveexperience. Focus on movement through time andspace, and the effect of that experience, and yourthoughts will change accordingly.Law #3: Limiting information engages theimagination. And the art of limiting information allowspeople to create their own story, which then engagesthem more fully.Law #4: Creativity thrives under intelligentconstraints. Constraints help shape and focus problems,fuel passion and give you speed and momentum.Law #5: Break is the important part of breakthrough.When a well-worn pattern is broken, creativity emerges.We think differently when a break occurs, more creatively.Law #6: Doing something isn’t always better thandoing nothing. Try doing nothing and you’ll find it’simpossible. But our brains are most creative when wetake a break from normal business in some way.could be relabeled ‘false message’ or ‘brain glitch.’ Thisamounts to training yourself to clearly recognize and identifywhat is real and what isn’t, refusing to be tricked by yourown intrusive thoughts and urges. Essentially you call thethought or urge exactly what it is: an obsessive thought or acompulsive urge. For someone with OCD, instead of saying, ‘Ihave to check the stove, they would start saying, ‘I’m having acompulsive urge to check the stove.’ ”Now, in order to do this, notice that you are really engagingin a bit of personal subtraction; you are removing yourselffrom the equation, and observing yourself objectively.Step 2: ReattributeThe second step is to Reattribute, which answers a keyquestion, which Jeff poses: “Why do these thoughts keepcoming back? The answer is that the brain is misfi ring, stuckPage5in gear, creating mental noise, and sending false messages. Inother words, if you understand why you’re getting those oldthoughts, eventually you’ll be able to say, ‘Oh, that’s just myOCD, or that’s just a brain glitch.’ ” That raises the naturalnext question: What can you do about it?3: RefocusThe third step is to Refocus, and it is where the toughestwork is, because it’s the actual changing of behavior. Youhave to do another behavior instead of the old one. Havingrecognized the problem for what it is and why it’s occurring,you now have to replace the old behavior with new, moreconstructive things to do. This is where the change in brainchemistry occurs, because you are cutting new grooves, newpatterns, new mindsets.Step 4: RevalueIt all comes together in the fourth step, Revalue, which isthe natural outcome of the first three. With a consistent wayto replace the old behavior with the new, you begin to seeold patterns as simple distractions. You devalue them, really,as being completely worthless. Eventually the thoughts andurges begin to fade in intensity, the brain works better andbetter, and the automatic transmission in the brain startsworking properly.“Two very positive things happen,” Jeff says. “The fi rst is thatyou’re happier, because you have control over your behavioralresponse to your thoughts and feelings. The second thing is thatby doing that, you change the faulty brain chemistry.”Jeff confi rms that his methods can be used to create changein any area of business, work, or life. “Since it has beenscientifically demonstrated that the brain has been alteredthrough the behavior change,” he says, “it’s safe to say that youcould do the same thing by altering responses to any numberof other behaviors.”What all of this meant to me was that we can learn toimprove our ability to defeat the traditional thinking traps wefall into when we try to change our view of whatever challengewe’re facing. We can override our default. We can retrain ourbrain by exercising the Apple tagline: Think different.The neuroscience of change reveals the power behind thefi fth law of subtraction: Breakthrough often demands onesimply making a conscious break from existing routines andpatterns, then sticking with it.SUCCESS.comSUCCESS BOOK SUMMARIES

TheBookLawsTitle of SubtractionACTION STEPSGet more out of this SUCCESS BookSummary by applying what you’velearned. Here are a few questions,thoughts and activities to get you started.1. Take a few minutes to pare your day down to the basicsand then write a To-Don’t list to keep you on track.2. Take a break from your normal business and spend thattime quieting your mind.3. Today, when a habitual, negative thought pops into yourmind, consciously question it. Ask: Is this thought true?4. Clear the clutter from your work space.About the AuthorThe Laws of Subtraction is the fourth book written5. Having trouble fitting everything in one day? What taskscan you eliminate or ignore?by Matthew May, the founder of Edit Innovations.6. Identify three things you do every day just because youhave always done them that way.the best-selling In Pursuit of Elegance, The Shibumi7. What rules do you follow that don’t really make sense?May, a motivational speaker, is also the author ofStrategy and The Elegant Solution. May is consideredan expert in the fields of innovation strategy, designthinking and corporate creativity. His articles haveappeared in numerous publications, includingUSA Today and The Wall Street Journal. May, whograduated from the Wharton School of Business andJohns Hopkins University, lives in Southern California.Recommended ReadingIf you enjoyed this summary of The Laws ofSubtraction, you may also want to check out:Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck by Anthony K.Tjan, Richard J. Harrington and Tsun-Yan HsiehJust Start by Leonard A. Schlesinger andCharles F. Kiefer, with Paul B. BrownJudgment Calls by Thomas H. Davenport andBrook ManvillePage6 2012 SUCCESS. All rights reserved. Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part in anyform without prior written permission. Published by SUCCESS, 200 Swisher Rd., Lake Dallas, TX75065, USA. by permission of the publisher, McGraw-Hill. The Laws of Subtraction by Matthew E.May. 2012 by Matthew E. May.SUCCESS.comSUCCESS BOOK SUMMARIES

FedEx used Law #1 to dramatically change their image and create one of the most indelible logos ever designed—one that helped breathe new life into an already strong brand and simultaneously signaled the world that the company was going places. What’s special about the FedEx logo