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Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World

May 15, 2016

Managing a business brings a complex set of challenges. Making tough decisions is one of the most significant. Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World describes how establishing sets of simple guidelines can help.

Authors Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt begin the book with a story that illustrates why simple rules are needed: Consider the evolution of combat medicine. Prior to World War II, wounded soldiers were treated on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of the severity of their injuries. During that war, however, the concept of triage was introduced—meaning patients were sorted into groups by severity of injury, with those most severely wounded treated first. 

Triage, which comes from the French word for sorting, is a set of simple rules—rules that also proved to be quite effective.

The Basics of Simple Rules

The authors go on to lay out four characteristics of simple rules:

> Limited in number. In order for a set of rules to be useful, they have to be remembered. Larger numbers of rules don’t simplify decision-making—they actually make the decision more complicated. Therefore, limit the number of rules you’ll follow. 

> Tailored to a person or organization. It’s important that rules be specific to the audience. Consider a set of nutritional rules: The same set of guidelines wouldn’t apply to both a group of middle-aged dieters and a team of college athletes.

> Applied to a defined activity. The authors caution against using the same set of guidelines across multiple activities, insisting that, “Simple rules are most effective when they apply to critical activities or decisions that represent bottlenecks to accomplishing an important goal.”

> Provide guidance while allowing flexibility. In other words, they avoid being overly rigid, leaving room to exhibit creativity or take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

To learn more about putting these guidelines into practice, pick up a copy of Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World.

The 6 Types of Rules

Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World defines 6 types of rules across two categories: Decision Rules and Process Rules.

Decision Rules

  • Boundary rules help you to decide what is acceptable to do.
  • Prioritizing rules help you determine what is more important to do.
  • Stopping rules help you clarify what to stop doing.

Process Rules

  • How-To rules define the basics of how to execute a task.
  • Coordination rules help guide interactions between people.
  • Timing rules help determine when to take action.