Author Mathew E. May writes about the virtues of simplicity and symmetry in solving business problems
In Pursuit of Elegance
The book:In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing, by Matthew E. May; Broadway; May 2009.
The big idea:Elegance describes the perfect answer to any problem: a solution so good it makes you tingle. There are four elements of elegance. Symmetry refers to the beauty of patterns. Seduction requires engaging the intelligence by limiting information. Subtraction is paring excess. Sustainability means maintaining finite resources.
The backstory: May was drawn to the subject while studying the Toyota Production System.
If you read nothing else: Don't miss "Laws of Subtraction." May shows our inclination to act and to add; elegance is achieved when we stop acting and take away. Among the excellent examples: first direct, Britain's first branchless bank; and the spare menu at In-N-Out Burger.
"I" stands for "inscrutable": There's the obligatory Apple story. But May talks as much about the iPhone's minimalist marketing as its design.
Pass it to: Anyone involved in new products, innovation, and marketing. May explains how to provoke curiosity and improve customer satisfaction by leaving things out of products and ads.
You can skip: "Elegance in Mind." May's advice on quieting the mind to encourage eureka moments is predictable.
Rigor rating: 8 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). The author conducted extensive interviews with primary sources.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan
Editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan writes Inc.'s book review column, The Skimmer's Guide to the Latest Business Books. She also writes company profiles, and columns on leadership and office life. Her work has also appeared in the Harvard Business Review and CIO Magazine. And, yes, early in her career Buchanan edited the TV Guide crossword puzzle.