Rules of Thumb – A Review

Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self

                                             Alan M. Webber

I can’t remember what turned me on to this book. I think it was a review in a magazine I glanced through. However, what sold me on it was the ability to see how large the font is. I tend to be realistic about the type of book I can consume. If the font is too small I usually don’t get involved – just too much of a commitment. That isn’t to say it’s huge, it’s normal size. You just never know what’s going to put you over the edge and buy a book.

My summary review of this book is that it’s the perfect 15 minutes at a time read. Each chapter, or rule, is insightful, but also articulate and concise enough to get through when you only have a smidgen of time. I recommend this to anyone who needs an enterprise perspective or business philosophy book. It pulls from the author’s experiences (Harvard Business Review and Fast Company) as well as his idea sharing with other thought leaders (Jim Collins and Dan Pink for instance). The other part I like is that it is very much an applied book – the ideas happened, they aren’t theoretical. It’s very much a “here’s what happened to me” recollection.

rules of thumb book cover

Here are some pull outs I really enjoyed (some with my thoughts added):

Rule # 6 If You Want to See With Fresh Eyes, Reframe the Picture – Pg 28: Another way to learn: add different points of view. What would a an anthropologist say about your company culture? If you invited a cartoonist to draw your business, what would the picture look like? When you invite outsiders in to look at your business you get the benefit of seeing what is all too familiar to you with their new-to-the-scene eyes. I like how he references a cartoonist. Something I wouldn’t consider, but the visualization this person would bring would be eye opening (pun intended).

Rule #14 You Don’t Know If You Don’t Go – Pg 64: Toyota practices Genchi Genbutsu“Go and See”

Rule #14 You Don’t Know If You Don’t GoPg 66: But the problem isn’t too much information. It’s too much insulation. Get out of the bubble that acts as an echo chamber. The echo chamber is something I fear. I get comfortable with my sources and return to them practically out of habit.

Rule #18 Knowing It Ain’t The Same As Doing It – Pg 86: There are two ways to knowing. One way comes from the head. It’s the kind of knowing that comes from reading and thinking – it’s the land of theorizing that experts excel at. The other way of knowing comes from doing. Unlike the first form of knowing, which starts in the head and stays there, this form of knowing starts in the hands and moves up to the head and then moves back down again in a knowing-doing loop. This becomes a main theme of the rules: seeing an idea through.

Rule #19 Memo To Leaders: Focus On The Signal-To-Noise Ration – Pg 90: If you’re a leader, your people need three things: clarity about purpose, honesty about values, and focus about metrics.

Rule #24 If You Want To Change The Game, Change The Economics Of How The Game Is Played – Pg 116: If you want to change the game, change the economics of how the game is played. This is always true. We often talk of innovation and putting in a system where the economies change is the perfect example of innovating. This part of innovation is often overlooked, but it is critical for many ideas to survive.

Rule #30 The Likeliest Sources of Great Ideas Are In The Most Unlikely Places – Pg 150: Third, like money, not all great ideas are created equal. Like children, if they’re yours, you may love them all equally. But unlike your children, you’re allowed to rank your ideas by their feasibility, likelihood of success, return on investment, and other market-based measures. It’s fun to come up with great ideas; implementing them is hard work. Use your discretion. Fourth, great ideas really are the coin of the realm – if you can implement them. Otherwise they’re fool’s gold. Most companies have people who are nothing but idea people and others who are only implementers. You need them both. Great idea people are rare – and also frequently hard to live with. They see things the rest of us can’t see, which is their gift. They can’t see what you and I can see easily, which is their burden. Still, you need them and they need a home where they can contribute… Your job is to build a bridge the great ideas can walk across, from those who have them to those who make them real. I know a guy like this and I tend to be the translator between him and the implementers.

Rule #31 Everything Communicates – Pg 154: “Small gestures send big signals.” – great line

Rule #31 Everything CommunicatesPg 155: How you communicate communicates. Some people think they need to “speak business” to prove they belong in business. They think a compulsive use of consulting buzzwords and MBA jargon makes them sound like they’ve learned the secret code. Unfortunately, that kind of acronym laced talk doesn’t demonstrate a business – smart brand; it comes across as “the brand called insecure.” A far better strategy is to know all the right jargon but to translate it into words and ideas that ordinary people can understand. I notice this quite a bit. There is no need to over complicate the message.

Rule #32 Content Isn’t King. Context Is King – Pg 161: No matter how many raw facts you know, they’re only as valuable as the context within which you put them. That’s why context is more important than content and always will be, pipes or no pipes.
Have the mental inventory to connect dots that others don’t see.

Rule #33 Everything Is A Performance – Pg 165: Conviction, for one thing. If people feel you genuinely care – about the work you’re doing , about them, of about the theme of the talk you’re giving – they are much more willing to enter into your performance with you.

Rule #34 Simplicity Is The New Currency – Pg 168: 1) Simple is hard
. The reason simplicity looks simple is that someone has done the hard work of removing all the complexity. Simplicity takes hours of concentrated effort.

Rule #36 Message To Entrepreneurs: Managing Your Emotional Flow Is More Critical Than Managing Your Cash Flow – Pg 180: regarding entrepreneurism:
If you can’t manage the stress of uncertainty, ambiguity, and doubt your skill at managing cash flow won’t matter.

Rule #43 Don’t Confuse Credentials With Talent – Pg 219: Ask yourself, if you could own 10% of the future earnings of any of your classmates, who would you pick?
You’d pick the person with the personal qualities you admire: generous, honest, and attracted by others to work with you.

Rule #44 When It Comes To Business, It Helps If You Actually Know Something About Something – Pg 228: Silicon Valley is one of the few places in the world where venture capitalists go to work everyday expecting a sizable percentage of their investments to fail. Not only that but  they check the resources of the entrepreneurs who send them business plans to see if they’ve failed in the past – to punish them for failing but to reward them for it.

Rule #51 Take Your Work Seriously. Yourself, Not So Much – Pg 258: We all want to work for people who take their work seriously – and themselves not so much. Who leave room for laughter. Who have time to tell stories. Who relish the mix of ideas that only an energized group can elicit. We want to work for people who are confident enough of who they are to be able to delight in making jokes at their own expense. Who bring others into the circle to make it larger, brighter, and a little lighter.

Plus this entry from over the summer:


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