One entrepreneurial editor’s heuristics for today’s business environment: Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb

Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, Webber, Alan M.

Alan Webber was the managing editor of the Harvard  Business Review and, wearing an entrepreneurial hat, was a cofounder of Fast Company magazine. He’s hung out with and paid attention to lots of smart people and he’s managed to acquire substantial experience in his own right. In Rules of Thumb Webber seeks to distill some of the lessons he’s learned for the benefit of the rest of us.

These kinds of books depend on whether the authors can tell a good story and whether they have any substantively useful insights. As you might expect, Webber has an excellent collection of stories, well told. More importantly, he delivers on the insights side. A few of his rules fall flat or feel clich d but the bulk reinforce and extend themes I find important and frequently open up new perspectives.

Here are the rules Webber presents; it’s worth your effort to see what he does with each.

  1. When the going gets tough, the tough relax
  2. Every company is running for office. To win, give the voters what they want
  3. Ask the last question first
  4. Don’t implement solutions. Prevent problems
  5. Change is a math formula
  6. If you want to see with fresh eyes, reframe the picture
  7. The system is the solution
  8. New realities demand new categories
  9. Nothing happens until money changes hands
  10. A good question beats a good answer
  11. We’ve moved from an either/or past to a both/and future
  12. The difference between a crisis and an opportunity is when you learn about it
  13. Learn to take no as a question
  14. You don’t know if you don’t go
  15. Every start-up needs four things: change, connections, conversation, and community
  16. Facts are facts; stories are how we learn
  17. Entrepreneurs choose serendipity over efficiency
  18. Knowing it ain’t the same as doing it
  19. Memo to leaders: focus on the signal to noise ratio
  20. Speed = strategy
  21. Great leaders answer Tom Peters’ great question: "How can I capture the world’s imagination?"
  22. Learn to see the world through the eyes of your customer
  23. Keep two lists. What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up at night?
  24. If you want to change the game, change the economics of how the game is played
  25. If you want to change the game, change customer expectations
  26. The soft stuff is the hard stuff
  27. If you want to be like Google, learn Megan Smith’s three rules
  28. Good design is table stakes. Great design wins
  29. Words matter
  30. The likeliest sources of great ideas are in the most unlikely places
  31. Everything communicates
  32. Content isn’t king. Context is king
  33. Everything is a performance
  34. Simplicity is the new currency
  35. The Red Auerbach management principle: loyalty is a two-way street
  36. Message to entrepreneurs: managing your emotional flow is more critical than managing your cash flow
  37. All money is not created equal
  38. If you want to think big, start small
  39. "Serious fun" isn’t an oxymoron; it’s how you win
  40. Technology is about changing how we work
  41. If you want to be a real leader, first get real about leadership
  42. The survival of the fittest is the business case for diversity
  43. Don’t confuse credentials with talent
  44. When it comes to business, it helps if you actually know something about something
  45. Failure isn’t failing. Failure is failing to try
  46. Tough leaders wear their hearts on their sleeves
  47. Everyone’s at the center of their map of the world
  48. If you want to make change, start with an iconic project
  49. If you want to grow as a leader, you have to disarm your border guards
  50. On the way up, pay attention to your strengths.; they’ll be your weaknesses on the way down
  51. Take your work seriously. Yourself, not so much
  52. Stay alert! There are teachers everywhere