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Add More to Your Life by Subtraction

How clever of Matthew May to design Laws of Subtraction as what Frans Johansson dubs a “hook”  — something concrete around which we can gain clarity in our own thinking and are pulled into contributing relevant ideas to his six smart laws to simplify work and life.

That’s a valuable companion concept to Peter Guber’s advice, in Tell to Win: create purposeful narratives. Then you can pull others into your story because they can see a role they want to play in it. In their re-telling of your story, they reshape it, making it theirs, more multi-faceted and thus more relevant to more kinds of people the more it is shared. Certainly that expanding, pass-along effect can create value for any kind of organization.

May’s book-as-hook provides wise and concrete ways that businesses can accomplish more in the wake of world of “excess” information by subtracting the extraneous.

He uses another hook that you can emulate to boost the visibility of your book or other project. For some of his laws, he builds upon other well-known experts’ ideas, thus boosting their bragging rights. They will probably tout his ideas, attached to theirs.

Methinks May’s inclusive approach can also be applied to our personal, social and civic lives, as it helps us focus on the few, most meaningful things we want to accomplish, and how and with whom. That’s a sound path for savoring experiences with others.

One of the many reasons that reading this book is a pure pleasure is that his writing style, storytelling and illustrations reinforce his core message that less can be more… and more meaningful.  Grabbing onto his hook I’ve added a Kare’s Corollary Law to each of his six, hoping it spurs you to do the same and share it here.

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.” — SCOTT BELSKY, founder and CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen

Kare’s Corollary Law

Entice yet don’t overwhelm would-be customers by offering them just three versions of your service or product, making all three visible at once. Show a low-cost yet enticing basic option; and one full of all the bells and whistles, or a premium parts the package with more parts; and a middle option that is literally displayed in the middle. Subtracting other distracting options in this way spurs more people to buy something, and the average buy will be bigger. That’s my takeaway from Barry Schwartz’ The Paradox of Choice where he, like Matthew May, suggests that too many options often don’t make us smarter or happier with what we choose, if we do choose anything.

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.” — BRAD SMITH, CEO, Intuit

Kare’s Corollary Law

Setting just a few rules makes it seems like you really thought about them and intend to make them stick, further, they are more likely to be remembered and followed. Plus this approach is more likely to create, what John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, in A New Culture of Learning, call a “bounded and unbounded” environment in which people are more likely to learn and invent tacitly, fueled by their passionate interests.

In such a culture people feel more free to self-organize into teams as the need or opportunity arises, and add their own relevant Rules of Engagement if they feel they need them. With fewer rules and more freedom, we are more likely to tinker, suggests John Seely Brown.  In this increasingly complex yet connected world, it behooves organizations to go “social,” spurring self-organizing inventiveness around that organization’s core mission.

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 say less?” — CARMINE GALLO, author of The Apple Experience

Kare’s Corollary Law

Get specific sooner. Upfront provide the specific detail that proves your general conclusion, not the reverse, which is our natural tendency. Yet too many details can act as underbrush, obscuring your core point. Make your message almost as vital as AIR:  Actionable. Interestingness. Relevant. Read about the rest of May’s insightful laws for a simpler life at my Forbe’s column.

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