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Books by Matthew E. May

W hen a tiny brochure—entitled Elegant Solutions: Rules to Innovate By—crossed the desk of literary agent John Willig in 2005, little did Matthew E. May know that it would become the framework for a business book proposal that Simon & Schuster would snap up and publish as The Elegant Solution. The rest, as they say, is history.

Matt is currently hard at work conducting research for his fifth title.

The Laws of Subtraction (© 2013)

6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything

Laws-3D-240 2 T he 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. Our economy is more uncertain than ever. Our resources are scarcer than ever. There is endless choice and feature overkill in all but the best experiences. Every- body 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. The noise is deafening, the signal weak. Everything is too complicated and time-sucking.

Welcome to the age of excess everything. Success in this new age looks different, and demands a new skill: Subtraction.

Subtraction is defined simply as the art of removing anything excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use, or ugly . . . or the discipline to refrain from adding it in the first place. And if subtraction is the new skill to be acquired, we need a guide to developing it.

Enter The Laws of Subtraction.

Through a dozen of the most compelling stories of breakthrough innovation culled from 2,000 cases and bolstered by uniquely personal essays contributed by over 50 of the most creative minds in business today, The Laws of Subtraction outlines six simple rules for winning in the age of excess everything, and delivers a single yet powerful idea:

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


On Law #1: What Isn’t There Can Often Trump What Is
“When you reduce the number of doors that someone can walk through, more people walk through the one that you want them to walk through. When you’re con- fident, you begin to subtract. And as you subtract, you become more confident.”
—SCOTT BELSKY, founder and CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen

On Law #2: The Simplest Rules Create the Most Effective Experience
“Keeping it simple isn’t easy. By exploiting subtraction in innovation, we’ve been able to create an environment of freedom and creativity that allows us to thrive and grow.”

On Law #3: Limiting Information Engages the Imagination
“Subtraction can mean the difference between a highly persuasive presentation and a long, convoluted, and confusing one. Why say more when you can less?”
—CARMINE GALLO, author of The Apple Experience

On Law #4: Creativity Thrives Under Intelligent Constraints
“Here’s the key to the conundrum for managers who want to stoke the innovation fire: That close cousin of scarcity, constraint, can indeed foster creativity.”
—TERESA AMABILE, author of The Progress Principle

On Law #5: Break Is the Important Part of Breakthrough
“If you kill the butterflies in your stomach, you’ll kill the dream. Embrace the feel- ing. Save the butterflies.”
—JONATHAN FIELDS, author of Uncertainty

On Law #6: Doing Something Isn’t Always Better Than Doing Nothing
“When we’re faced with the greatest odds against us, often we need to edit rather than add. The magic of life is not in computing more but in learning to make sense with less.”
—CHIP CONLEY, cofounder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and author of Emotional Equations 

Sampler: ChangeThis Manifesto

ChangeThis.com, which publishes free and freely sharable manifestos based on popular books and authors, has published a manifesto based on  The Laws of Subtraction. You can download it as a pdf by clicking HERE.

Companion playbook: BOX OF LESS

If you've read The Laws of Subtraction, you'll see the offer to download the free companion playbook, entitled BOX OF LESS. Simply click HERE to download the pdf. Enjoy the exercises and extra resources, and have fun on the way to less!

Order The Laws of Subtraction at any of these fine book retailers:

Amazon B&N 8CR BAM! IndieBound iBooks

The Shibumi Strategy (© 2010)

A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change

Shibumi-3D-175 W hat if we are constantly being sent signals and offered opportunities, but because we are so involved in our mad rush to survive the day that we simply don’t receive them? What if we’re stuck, asleep at the wheel, and we just don’t know it, because our conventional ways of thinking, rigidly structured routines, and solidly set minds block us from discovering what the universe is calling us to do?

The Shibumi Strategy is a little book about a big breakthrough. It tells the story of Andy Harmon, a hardworking family man who finds himself in crisis when his company closes. Through his struggle, and guidance from unlikely sources, he learns subtle lessons in Zen principles, coming to understand that it is often the unexpected setbacks that harbor the power to transform. When approached as an opportunity, these unforeseen trials can often result in a life-changing breakthrough. For Andy, it comes in the form of shibumi—a Zen concept without direct translation in English but connoting effortless effectiveness, elegant simplicity, and the height of personal excellence.

Engaging and enlightening, The Shibumi Strategy provides a pathway for a five-phase cycle, encompassing lessons on commitment, preparation, struggle, breakthrough, and transformation. Also included are short insights, practical takeaways, and exercises for incorporating this philosophy in everyday life.

Designed to strike a universal chord, Andy’s journey toward shibumi enables individuals to adopt their own interpretations of the concept and create meaningful changes in their lives. For those navigating difficult transitions, struggling to overcome internal setbacks, seeking to regain balance, or simply taking new directions, The Shibumi Strategy offers a fresh perspective on the challenges we all face at some point in work and life.


"With this short, simple fable, Matthew May manages to illuminate an all-too-common career crisis with Zen insights and concepts that not only provoke thought but also give readers powerful strategies to tackle change, challenge, and opportunity."
—GRETCHEN RUBIN, author of The Happiness Project

"Matt May has written a little book full of big ideas. Drawing from ancient Zen practice and applying those principles to modern life, he shows how you can turn the obstacles in your path into opportunities to transform your career, perhaps even your life."
—DANIEL PINK, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind

"Matt's done it again: shown us how to break out of constraints and get the job done. He's also proven how Japanese practices and Zen principles that are difficult to translate can explain everything."
—GUY KAWASAKI, author of Enchantment

"The holy grail for any leader is to reach a state of clarity and peak performance. Through the power of story, The Shibumi Strategy shows us how, and sheds an invaluable light on the role (and potential) of the everyday struggles we face."
—SCOTT BELSKY, founder & CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen

"What an exquisite story! Matt May deftly weaves ancient wisdom with modern realities, revealing how each of us can embrace the struggle inherent in any meaningful breakthrough—and use it to transform our own potential in work and life."
—SALLY HOGSHEAD, author of Fascinate 

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In Pursuit of Elegance (© 2009, 2010)

Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing

IPoE-3D-175 W hat made the Sopranos finale one of the most-talked-about events in television history? Why is sudoku so addictive and the iPhone so irresistible? What do Jackson Pollock and Lance Armstrong have in common with theoretical physicists and Buddhist monks?


In this thought-provoking exploration of why certain events, products, and people capture our attention and imaginations, Matthew E. May examines the elusive element behind so many innovative breakthroughs in fields ranging from physics and marketing to design and popular culture.

Combining unusual simplicity and surprising power, elegance is characterized by four key elements—seduction, subtraction, symmetry, and sustainability. In a compelling, story-driven narrative that sheds light on the need for elegance indesign, engineering, art, urban planning, sports, and work, May offers surprising evidence that what’s “not there” often trumps what is.

In the bestselling tradition of The Tipping Point, Made to Stick, and The Black Swan, In Pursuit of Elegance will change the way you think about the world.[/toggle]


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 PINK, author of Drive

“What a masterpiece! I meant to only take a quick glance at In Pursuit of Elegance, but once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.”
—BOB SUTTON, Stanford professor and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss

"As elegantly written as it is provocative, In Pursuit of Elegance makes a convincing--nay, worldview-shifting--argument that less is best."
—ORI BRAFMAN, co-author 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

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The Elegant Solution (© 2007)

Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation

TES-3D-175 F or the first time, an insider reveals the formula behind Toyota’s unceasing quest to innovate and do more with less, a philosophy that has made them one of the ten most profitable companies in the world (and worth more than GM, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, and Honda combined).

In a rare look into Toyota’s ability to consistently achieve breakthroughs that outperform the competition, The Elegant Solution explains what Toyota associates have known all along: it’s not about the cars. Rather, Toyota’s astounding success is just the visible result of a hidden creative process that begins with a seven digit number.

One million. That’s how many new ideas the Toyota organization implements every year. These ideas come from every level of the organization—from the factory floors to the corporate suites. And organizations all over the world want to learn how they do it. Now senior University of Toyota advisor Matthew May shows how any company can achieve an environment of everyday innovation and discover the kinds of elegant solutions that hold the power to change the game forever. World class benchmarks like Lexus, Prius, Scion—even Toyota’s vaunted production system—are simply shining examples of elegant solutions.

A tactical playbook for team-based innovation, The Elegant Solution delivers powerful lessons in breakthrough thinking in a provocative yet practical guide to the three core principles and ten key practices that shape successful business innovation. Innovation isn’t just about technology—it’s about value, opportunity, and impact. When a company embeds a real discipline around tapping ingenuity in the pursuit of perfection, the sky is the limit. Dozens of case studies (from Toyota and other companies) illustrate the universal power and applicability of these concepts. A unique “clamshell strategy” prepares managers to successfully lead and sustain the innovation effort.

At once a thoughtstarter and taskmaster, The Elegant Solution is an vital prescription for anyone wanting to truly master business innovation.[/toggle]


"This is an amazing insider's peek at an amazing company that has done amazing things. Elegance and perfection are elusive targets, but if ever a book showed how to score a double bull's-eye, this is it."
—GUY KAWASAKI, author of Enchantment

"Using Toyota as the exemplar, Matt May shows us the power of elegance in thinking...how to tame the tough problems and craft the optimal solutions that make for great innovation. A must-read book!"
—LINDA HIRNEISE, partner, J.D. Power & Associates

"Clear, insightful, and practical...The Elegant Solution is a fresh take on innovation ready-made for mounting a tactical assault on what keeps leaders up at night: complacency, competition, and change."
—AN DEVOOGHT, Chief Financial Officer, Red Bull

"The lessons in Matt May's The Elegant Solution are fast becoming the Los Angeles Police Department's road map to both innovation and efficiency, something that is rare in many city governments. The ideas are unique and essential for any successful manager."
—PATRICK FINDLEY, Captain and Commanding Officer, LAPD

"Whether you are a home builder, an automaker, or you're just trying to find a way to disrupt your competition, this under-the-hood look at Toyota's innovation engine exposes the blind spots we all share in making innovation too complex. Matt May delivers an elegant solution for creating the highest perceived value for associates and customers."
—KEN KRIVANEC, president and CEO, Quadrant Homes, a division of Weyerhaeuser Company

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