Rules of Thumb: A book review by Bob Morris

Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself
Alan M. Webber
HarperBusiness/HarperCollins (2009)

Entertaining as well as informative results from world-class mulling

Thus book is as difficult to describe as it is easy to appreciate. What we have here is a series of 52 mini-commentaries, each devoted to an insight or conviction that Alan Webber has formulated throughout his life thus far. As I worked my way through them, I was reminded of Isaac Asimov observation, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd…’”

Presumably Webber has encountered situations that struck him as odd and wondered about them, finally reaching conclusions that he characterizes as unofficial “rules” or “truths” about human nature. I suspect that are probably viewed by most people as guidelines.

Although Webber suggests that they can be applied to “winning at business without losing your self,” I think they are relevant whenever and wherever there is human interaction. After about the first 12-15, I began to connect rules to specific situations.

For example:

Rule #10: “A good question beats a good answer.” This offers excellent advice to job candidates whose questions tend to reveal more about their abilities than their responses to an interviewer’s questions do.

Rule #13: “Learn to take no as a question.” Sometimes, no means no. However, on frequent occasion, no is a tentative rather than terminal response. Politely request an explanation and be well-prepared to respond to the reasons offered.

Rule #18: “Knowing it ain’t the same as doing it.” This reminds me of a book with an eponymous title, in which Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton discuss what they call “The Knowing-Doing Gap.” Long ago, Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Rule #43: “Don’t confuse credentials with talent.” Make no mistake, credentials can have substantial value but (as #18 suggests) they offer evidence of nothing more than what obtaining them required.

With regard to talent, I agree with Anders Ericsson and his research associates at Florida State University that its importance also tends to be overrated. Darrell Royal once observed that “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” In my opinion, the best credentials are redundantly verifiable accomplishments that are relevant to the given needs.

Rule #45: “Failing isn’t failing. Failing is failing to try.” I agree, presuming to add that that failing is also failing to learn anything of value from whatever is considered a failure. Back to Edison who cherished every setback in his Menlo Park research center as a precious learning opportunity.

After you read Alan Webber’s book, he invites you to formulate your own Rule #53 and then share it with him ( I hope you do. Here’s the one I came up with: “You better be there when your name is called,” perhaps inspired by Woody Allen’s assertion, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”



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