I haven't posted anything for almost two weeks because my family and I were on a vacation in Spain, a lovely place. I came back to the usual pile of little chores. As I sorted through things yesterday, I noticed a copy of Alan Webber's new book, The Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself. I've always admired Alan for his work as co-founder of the iconic Fast Company, and found him charming when I finally met him at a recent dinner. But I haven't worked with him and barely know him.
So I don't have any particular personal reason to react to The Rules of Thumb the way I did -- I started by looking at the book, and I felt the hook set-in as I read the opening quote from Talmud, What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary."
And as I started reading, I felt the grip of Alan's charming and engaging writing style, his ability to observe, tell lovely stories. Alan is far more gentle writer than Robert Townsend, but reading The Rules of Thumb still reminded me of the first time that I read the astounding Up the Organization. It reads like the best 52 lightly intertwined blog posts I've ever read. And it is a very fast read -- dense without feeling dense -- so you get more for the two hours (or less) it takes to read than any book I recall reading in a long time.
To give you a taste of the book, here are some of Alan's rules that I especially liked:
#1. When the going gets tough, the tough relax.
#10. A good question beats a good answer (This, by the way, is the reason the Nobel Prize winners often give for the success of their work -- they framed the question better than their peers.)
#13. Learn to take no as a question (Alan provides great step-by-step advice here).
#16. Facts are facts. Stories are how we learn (A similar point to Made to Stick).
#17. Entrepreneurs choose serendipity over efficiency.
#23. Keep two lists: What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up at night?
#30. The likeliest sources of ideas are in the most unlikely places (He makes a great argument for looking for inspiration in all the wrong places).
#44. When to comes to business, it helps if you actually know something about something (Google is a good example of this principle, so are Men's Wearhouse and Amazon).
#46. Tough leaders wear their hearts on their sleeves.
#51. Take your work seriously. Yourself, not so much. (See this Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis for a cautionary tale: AIG CEOJoe Cassano suffered from a horrible case of taking himself too seriously).
You may have heard similar rules like these before, but the power of book, and why you will enjoy reading it so much, is Alan's ability to tell compact and compelling stories that bring these ideas to life in ways that few others out there can do. Alan, thanks for making my homecoming so enjoyable. You saved me from a couple hours of far less pleasant chores. Now I've got to deal with a couple hundred emails.....