“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
A process, a plan, a story – all fail in the absence of an objective but even more so they fail in the simple absence of a greater purpose. Such a purpose must greater by benefit of humanity, not corporate greed and so now we see what Emerson means – grasping the principles by which we live and then in business how we work, how we act, how we help – how we make a difference in whatever way – on this planet matters to ourselves, our customers, our colleagues and staff, our suppliers and indeed all stakeholders.
What are Principles? Life and then Strategy
Principles of life and how we perceive ourselves, our purpose versus what we do to earn a living, a way to wend through life, versus those of a firm, a company, a church or government determine fit, long term happiness and effectiveness of the the individual and a group, a cause, or a firm. Pick the wrong firm and no matter how much they pay you, you won’t be happy and it will show in your results. The most effective people know this, get this and pick the right places and understand where they can compromise on incongruences, join a group, a cause or a firm and succeed.
Sadly, a failure of principles abounds. The soulless company bent on short term gain sacrificing safety or morality usually crumbles – no fit with anyone but the leadership or ownership for a moment in time. Today’s world reveal causes politically flailing left or right who’s principles seemingly involve violence, insult and bigotry to stop violence, insult and bigotry. The result? An election surprise for the ages in the US. Principles there? I can’t seem to find any that resonate very well. As for religion – well that’s a firestorm conversation on principles where many in the world clearly disagree but where clear principles have indeed led to global societal divisions each of which know exactly what the principles and goals are – usually global religious domination.
Business strategy? Principles here must be crystal clear and understood. Who are we? Why do we exist? Why should we be chosen? How do we make a difference in lives and then the planet? What is our intersection with the globe’s nature, it’s trends – coming and going – versus what we can do – what products and services make sense now and in the future? Principles here guide our behavior, guide how we view the world, create a lens upon which we see and judge the facts, others ideas and the circumstances and how to respond, how to act. Sound like a person? Well, a firm is a living entity in many ways, as De Guess calls it, “A Living Company”. His view demanded that those firms with solid base principles, like sensitivity to it’s environment versus who it was and who were always conservative financially by example seemingly lived forever. Those who did not live shortly.
The net here? A firm with no identity, no personality and thus principles by which it’s identified and acts accordingly indeed will fail first for not having principles and second if it has principles incongruous with its markets, its stakeholders and its customers. The classic questions. Examples today – are we a hotel company or a finding you a place to stay company? Are we a taxi company or are we a transportation arrangement company? Are we a computer company or an experience company? Throw in the principles guiding your behavior and who you are and who you should or could be becomes clearer. Much clearer.
Leadership Instills Principles
Leadership must convey a firm’s principles effectively for success, for impact. Most fail at doing this well. It’s not about a simple list, it’s not about the market and our features translated to cold hard benefits. It’s stories, it’s context that convey how the firm fits, its greater purpose and the principles that guide it. It’s not a cold mission statement but rather a one line story – a one-line purpose – a one line “This Is Why We Are Here”.
Leadership must take the firm’s basic principles, it’s illustration through story and carry it through the firm, not by email, not by poster, not by pass through memorandum or even a few meetings or declarative classes, but by a powerful, persistent, personal presence. Walk, talk, engage, sit, relax, discuss and debate with your own management, your own staff and do this everywhere on all levels. Next, leadership must live these principles in real life. Recognize those making a difference, living by those principles, who then can be recruited to engage as you have.
Principles Provide Context
Once you have principles, you begin to view and navigate the world differently. There is now a greater clarity, a greater purpose, a powerful meaning to what you and your colleagues are doing. Developing strategy becomes easier, innovation becomes easier, managing people becomes easier. When there are no principles? No purpose built around these principles? A vaguery that costs in a myriad of ways where staff don’t how exactly what to do, how to do it, what’s right to do and when to take a chance and go the extra mile. Indeed, they may not even care.
Principles Bedrock Success, Not Purely Cold Process
Knowing why you do, what to do and how and when to do it guided by principles provides for better context and thus hopefully better satisfaction, high effectiveness and therefore success overall. Principles bedrock success where as a pure process without them will generally fail. Part of great principles is making sure the right people have the right jobs with the right context, guidance and support.
All the processes – training, degrees and workshops – in the world will not make most of us Mike Trout in baseball or music’s Ariana Grande or Apples Steve Job’s. Indeed, they will simply not make us something we are not. We are not all financial wizards, awesome innovators or great managers. Some things are simple innate. You may uncover the skilled, but’s not likely you make someone skilled if they are not meant to be. A company should not be like the bad helicopter parent forcing the violin, ballet shoes or a baseball bat down a kid’s throat. People need to like and want themselves to realistically do what they want and like to do. When we are in the right places, understand and enjoy our roles and expand our abilities naturally, individual success will also emerge and then not only only we will be successful, but so will the firm, the cause or the group.
The processes we use? We can choose those from a million that fit with our purposes and principles. They can vary by individual, by group, by company and by partnership, alliance or whatever. Without Principles to guide those processes? Well, failure awaits.
Lean Startup – Today’s Bastardized Process
While Lean Startup has some great basic principles on disciple and approach – like Plan, Do and Study – when taught by the clueless and those who’ve never innovated a thing in the lives, it can fail gloriously. The basic principles of figuring out why you exist are lost – it’s instead coldly presented in part as a “Business Canvas”, not an engaging story built on top of solid principles filling a compelling need transforming lives. Indeed, the canvas concept as presented to most does not even directly address the base needs of the globe, of time and its nature, of how an idea has contexted value. Indeed, the canvas not only misses a box for neatly placing competition but wholly ignores global context – why does anyone are at all? I get the basics – I don’t get the idea that through a cold process that anyone can statistically succeed for long or in a major, impactful way. It’s not the idea. It’s the why before it that matters. Then the ideas become better by default. Lean Startup is great, but misses that. It starts in the middle.
What was the great idea of Lean Startup only gets more bastardized every day as the degree of separation from it’s originators grow. By example, coldly teaching the Lean Startup concepts of failing fast and failing at low cost through slides and YouTube snippets bastardize the concepts, making them devoid of their real purpose – understanding context, trends and their intersection with personal and firm competencies. Fast and low cost are relative things and meaningless outside of the latter. As we’ve said, Lean Startup should be really retooled as Lean Learning.
Sadly, Lean Startup has now become a standard cash generator for consultants baiting companies into yet again the false belief that great innovation is only a few lectures, mentors and classes away. It’s not. It never will be. It’s those with the powerful, engaging, ethical, humanity benefiting and respecting principles conveyed in engaging, transformative stories who win long term.
The list goes on. Instead, innovation, big strategy impact and general success is about powerful leadership built around the base principles of empowering and understanding, tolerating failure versus shooting for it and employing intoxicating stories that convey purpose, rationale and excitement for the cause. Those are called principles.
Get Principled Yourself!
When you sit down and clearly enunciate and understand your own self, your own life principles, your own purpose, your own context in this world, then you will start to find contentment, some happiness, some true purpose and thereby see the world for yourself in context. Stand for something, be resolved about what you will and can do and what you will will never do and will stop others from doing. That’s the beginning of a purposeful life, one with a deeper meaning.
My Principles? My Purpose?
I will never knowingly, purposefully do harm to others, I will work my hardest for myself and others and protect and support for health, happiness and success my family, my friends and my colleagues. I will try my best to listen and learn versus lecture and dictate and trust my family and colleagues to do what I sincerely need help with and I shall do the same for them. I want to make a positive impact in the world, I want to help make my three-time cancer surviving wife’s life easier, purposeful and meaningful and I want to see my children have purposeful, impactful and meaningful lives as well.
Thanks for the time – I hope this article made a positive difference for you.
Special thanks to OSU MBA student Matt Steinberg for some inspiration!