Principles

A set of principles for how I go about things, especially for work. Nothing here is particularly original, just an attempt to identify approaches that have been meaningful and helpful to me. The descriptions are a bit thin and self-describing at the moment and for that I apologise—the hope is to expand and clarify them over time.

 

1: Be deliberate

“We must not drift or lie at anchor” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

Be aware, be thoughtful—it can be tiring, but is always worth it. Don’t accept doing things because they’re always done that way, or blindly coasting along without looking at the world. When needed, reason back from first principles. Especially be deliberate and thoughtful about decisions and their effects. This is a meta-principle, insofar as being principled requires deliberate, intentional thinking

2: Make excellence a habit

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit” — Aristotle

Excellence is built on habit, not on the myth of talent. The quality and value of things rests on a commitment to ongoing improvement. Set high standards in yourself and others, chase perfection, be candid and honest when they are not met.

3: Solve real problems

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill” — Theodore Levitt.

Focus on the important problems you and other people have, be motivated to solve them. Avoid defining the importance of a problem by how convenient the solution is. Invent with the outcome in mind for the good of others and aim to build useful solutions.

4: Think big, start small, act fast

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — Tao Te Ching.

Narrow visions are self-fulfilling. A predictor of success when it comes to making things is starting small and quickly building momentum through frequent iteration—speed is increasingly essential to modern work. Think about the possibilities, outcomes and effects of what might be, what could be. Dream in decades, yearn in years, mean plan in months, work in weeks, deliver in days.

5: Aim for impact

“Not all work is created equal” — Edmond Lau

Stay effective by applying energy to things that have impact and meaning to you. Look for ways to gain and apply leverage, and tie work back to meaningful outcomes. Value experiments, demos and feedback to confirm what’s being done matters and is directionally correct.

6: Commit and see things through

“Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst” (“Starting is easy, persistence is an art”) — German proverb

It’s easy to have a good idea and start an initiative, it’s harder to see it through. Great work requires persistence, determination and optimism—embrace and learn from setbacks. To the extent you can, take ownership and accountability for outcomes. It’s important for others to know someone is all in and truly committed. Anything worth doing need collaboration, trust and support—magic happens when people believe in each other.

7: Trust then verify

"Доверяй, но проверяй" (“Doveryai, no Proveryai”) — Russian proverb

Trust people to have good judgment and act for the good of others—many decisions can be made and adjusted easily, and don’t need agreement in abundance. Care about details, be systematic in checking and verifying what you and others are doing is working. Be determined about making progress towards good outcomes.

8: Advanced and acceptable

“Good design makes a product understandable” — Dieter Rams

Success and service depends on the ability of others to use and benefit from what we make. Design for ease of use and affordance for others. Combine innovation with familiarity and place importance on simple ideas, processes and approaches.

9: Be curious

“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.” — Marcus Aurelius

Any idea or approach could be wrong, vulnerable or provisional. Start by seeking to understand how you’d know and find out something is likely to be true, useful or worthwhile. Prefer to look at reality flexibly—take an empirical evidence based approach over idealism and dogmatism. To grow and develop, illuminate beliefs and biases.