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Axioms #9: The Poppins Principle

28 Sep

“Do you want to do this fast… or do you want to do this right?” is an important question.  If the answer is fast, then let’s do it fast as possible so we can get to fixing it as soon as possible.

Mary Poppins is a great story/video full of information about how to become a better manager. 

One of her best is “Well Begun Is Half Done.”  In brief, getting anything off to a good start improves the likelihood of success.  Odd thing, some people seem to often start off in a hole, then neglect another aphorism: If you are in a hole, stop digging.

When we look at complex systems this principle seems to be magnified many fold. Chaos theory states that small perturbations in initial conditions within complex systems (people and organizations are complex systems) can have enormous impacts at a later time.

Remember the 5Ps: proper planning produces premier performance.

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.

Axioms #8: Watch The Waitress

24 Aug

This is one of my favorite stories.  Suppose we go out to lunch and the food is good but the service is terrible.  If you think “stupid, uncaring waitress” you’re very likely wrong.  Instead ask the following questions:  How many tables is she covering?  How much training has she had?  What is the interface with the kitchen like?  Does she also run the cash register?  Do her……  etc., etc., etc.  BUT the most important question is: What is her boss’s management style?

Any and every manager can be the one who helps you succeed or makes you fail.  No one has more direct effect on our work-lives than our immediate boss.

Several weeks ago I spoke with a recently retired person and asked “How is retirement better?”  She said “I don’t get sick on Sunday night any more.”  I have heard this story too often and have had the opportunity on a couple occasions to do an assessment is such places.  It’s always the key manager.

Go to:, click on “preview the book” and scroll down to The Basics of an Effective Management Style on pp.  11.  The pull-out quote is “Unfortunately, many of us have had the dubious opportunity to work for the manager from hell.”  Boy, did I miss the boat on this article, it should be called “The Manager From Hell.”

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.

Axioms: The Plumber’s Rule

17 Aug

Recently I have been working in a company that is interested in improving its performance and thus it’s management practices.  After hearing stories about poor management practices in a particular silo, I have commented on the Plumber’s Rule nature of the stories.  No one in the interviews had heard of the rule, this is very unusual.

One basic understanding about organizations is they are hierarchical.  This is because no one has found a better way to assign responsibility and authority.  Unfortunately some are too hierarchical.  One example of this is micro-management, a practice that encourages people to optimize their situation by obeying rules and passing as much responsibility upward as is possible.  This is a productivity killer.

Another general principle is leadership drives the culture of the organization, what happens at the top flows down into the organization.  When managerial performance is poor this is the Plumber’s Rule, “In organizations fecal matter flows downhill.”

Understand this fundamental idea.  When someone or some unit is not working well look up one or two layers.  Odds are that is the locus of the problem is there or as the Q people say, the root cause.

For an excellent example of this principle go to: The manager from Hades.

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.


Axioms #6: Occam’s Razor

3 Aug

William of Ockham (c. 1285–1349) formulated this principle in the 14th century and it has enormous importance to anyone engaged in the operation of large systems. He said, “Thou shall not multiply thy entities needlessly,” or more simply, in any pair of explanations one should favor the simpler. This is also called the Law of Parsimony, the philosophical and scientific rule that states that simple explanations should be preferred to more complex ones and that explanations of new phenomena should be based on what is already known.

Thoughtfully combining the Pareto Principle with Occam’s Razor allows leaders and managers with a powerful pair of tools for assessment, analysis and potential action. It permits pairs of comparisons and a criterion for evaluating the efficacy of each. Peter Drucker said, “It takes knowledge to transform data into information.” In a world where we often seem to be struggling with too much data and too little information this pair of axioms provides leaders with a simple and powerful tool to engage people and understand the results.

Does some of this sound a like the KISS principle?

For a more comprehensive discussion of Pareto and Occam”s tools with an actual example go to Analyzing key axioms for leadership in the Corridor Business Journal.

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.

Axioms: The Pareto Principle #2 – How to…..

27 Jul

In any complex system a small number of variables, usually fewer the seven, control most of the variance in the system. If you can identify these variables, you can exert great influence on the performance of the system.

The Pareto Principle is the basis for a Pareto Analysis, a simple and powerful way to identify these variables.  Imagine any data set, quantitative or qualitative, numbers or words.  If you assign these data into n boxes/categories and count and rank order the frequencies you can then produce a Pareto Chart.  The categories would be on the horizontal or x-axis and the frequencies on the vertical or y-axis.  The Pareto chart shown last week and in this blog are typical but these have fewer categories than usual.

With narrative data it is first necessary to inductively content analyze the narrative and then label and rank order the resulting categories by frequency.

This is a terrific tool for both tactical and strategic analysis and makes a SWOT look weak and useless (unless you don’t have a handle on the those characteristics).

For more on how, go to: and use the Pareto chart link.

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.

Axioms: The Pareto Principle

20 Jul

In the middle of the 18th century an Italian economist named Alfredi Pareto discovered that 80% of the property was owned by 20% of the people.  Everyone promptly forgot this until WWII when Joseph Juran, one of the early Quality gurus, rediscovered it as a powerful tool in quality management.  More recently organizational development people have generalized the principle, casually known as the 80 – 20 rule, to describe a core characteristic of complex systems.

Simply stated: In any complex system a small number of variables, usually fewer the seven, control most of the variance in the system. If you can identify these variables you can exert great influence on the performance of the system.  Variance is a statistical term for the total activity in a system.  For those of you who are purists it is the square of the standard deviation in a data set.

This happens to be an amazingly important principle because it essentially means that if we can identity this handful of characteristics we can run any complex system.

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.

Axioms: Parkinson’s Law

13 Jul

Parkinson’s Law states “work expands to fill the time available for it’s completion.”  A corollary is “set the performance bar low enough and many will eventually give you their worst performance.”  Unfortunately we have all seen this too often.

A particular challenge for good managers is to find a performance demand level that is high enough to catalyze excellent performance yet not too high to utterly discourage people from trying.  This is complicated by the personal differences in people’s perceptions of too high or too low.

Clearly good goal setting and timely accurate, mostly positive feedback are the critical elements driving high performance.  Does that sound like The One Minute Manager?

Interestingly, leadership may be the art of setting the bar too high and then guiding people to attain it by capturing their imagination and enthusiasm.  Consider: “To achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon…..”

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.

Axioms: The Peter Principle

6 Jul

The Peter Principle states that in organizations people rise to their level of incompetence.  Almost anyone who has had a “boss from Hell” can attest to this principle.  Actually there is an important grain of truth in this principle and it anticipated an important area of research:  What predicts managerial success.  Longitudinal and other studies show there are three key predictors of managerial success: Competence, Emotional Intelligence (interpersonal skill) and Integrity.  Despite the fact this finding is several decades old, many organizations still promote only on the basis of competence. Competence is a necessary condition for managerial success, but not sufficient.

This promotion pattern may also account for the fact that most problem managers are those who work poorly with others.  They are not incompetent or unethical, although these three deficits tend to be correlated.  Imagine a boss or co-worker who is incompetent, difficult and unethical – that must be fun?  So why do managers promote people who are difficult to work with?  There are many reasons, care to share your favorite?

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal.

Beginning a New Series: Axioms

29 Jun

In a recent series of seminars with a group of people, most of whom were engineers, we fell into a discussion of axioms that seem fall into the category of “managing people and organizations.”

An axiom is a statement or idea that people accept as self-evidently true.  Deming called this “profound wisdom.” Interestingly most of these have some empirical or philosophical basis of support.  Over the next few weeks let’s look at some of these:

•The Peter Principle

•Parkinson’s Law

•The Law of Unintended Consequences

•Occam’s Razor

•Murphy’s Law

•The Pareto Principle

If you have any others, please let me know and I will discuss them.

Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal and it look marvelous on an iPad.