Rules to live by

Thumbs up for "Rules of Thumb." (Photo courtesy of

Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self by Alan M. Webber
270 pages, Harper Business 2009

By Anthony O. Alcantara

If experience is the best teacher, then rules of thumb are the gurus.

They’ve distilled the lessons for you so you don’t have to experience failure or repeat the same mistakes.

In his book Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber has collected 52 valuable truths that people don’t have to rediscover. Some of them you may have discovered on your own, some you may not agree with, but some would be gems you would like to keep.

But what makes Webber an authority? He is the cofounding editor of Fast Company magazine and the editorial director and managing editor of the Harvard Business Review. Those are the salient credentials.

The relevant ones are his talks with some of the world’s leading businessmen, politicians, philosophers, professors, Nobel Prize winners and other super achievers. That’s where he got his rules of thumb.

He has developed a long-time habit of collecting them. Armed with 3 by 5 cards wherever he goes, he jots down lessons he has learned from his interactions with many people.

Weber describes the story behind each rule.

For exmaple, Rule #10: A Good Question Beats a Good Answer.

It simply means that good questions are better than good or even great answers. Weber says “questions are how we learn.”

He learned about this rule from Jim Collins, the author of Good To Great. Because Good To Great achieved great success, Webber asked Collins what he was working on as a follow-up to a great book.

“I’m looking for a good question,” Collins told Webber. Good answer.

Webber said: “If you don’t ask the right question, it doesn’t matter what your answer is. And if you ask the right question, no matter what your answer, you will learn something of value.”

Here are some of my favorites:

Rule #16: Facts are Facts; Stories Are How We Learn. This rule simply means that telling people astounding facts is not a guarantee that they will remember them. Using stories will more likely do the job.

Rule #31: Everything communicates. The way you talk, the way you write, the way you dress… they all tell something about you.

Rule #33: Everything is a performance. This one’s a corollary to Rule #31. It is probably the author’s version of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage.”

Rule #39: “Serious Fun” Isn’t An Oxymoron; It’s How You Win. If we have fun at home or at malls, why can’t we have fun in the serious world of work? Google and a lot of other companies have done it.

Rule #45: Failure Isn’t Failing. Failure Is Failing To Try. This is another perspective on failure that I like. If this is true, then I believe trying in itself is success.

Rule #51: Take Your Work Seriously. Yourself, Not So. Sometimes we’re just too harsh on ourselves.

I’ve come up with my own rule of thumb as well: The best teachers are not experiences; they’re called rules of thumb.



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