Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World

(1) discover and qualify opportunities; (2) develop a pre-proposal; (3) design a solution; and (4) conduct pre-sales planning.

Compared to the comprehensive regulations of the Benedictines or Dominicans, the Jesuits’ simple rules, few in number, erred on the side of flexibility by conferring on individuals the latitude to exercise judgment.

Designing a railway using slime mold might seem like an esoteric illustration of learning simple rules from the experience of others, but drawing inspiration for simple rules from the animal world is not so rare. Termites, bees, and other social insects provide a particularly fertile source of simple rules. They have enough collective intelligence to accomplish complex tasks like finding nests or migrating long distances, but since each animal has little brainpower and few physical skills, their actions can often be captured by simple rules.

Imagine a book that is seven times as long as War and Peace, but without any characters, plot points, or insight into the human condition. That book is the U.S. tax code.

In 1988 bankers from around the world met in Basel, Switzerland, to agree on international banking regulations, and published a 30-page agreement (known as Basel I). Sixteen years later, the Basel II accord was an order of magnitude larger, at 347 pages, and Basel III was twice as long as its predecessor.

Investing the time up front to clarify what will move the needles dramatically increases the odds that simple rules will be applied where they can have the greatest impact.

Meeting complexity with complexity can create more confusion than it resolves.

Simple rules address a deeply rooted human desire for simplicity when dealing with a range of complex challenges ranging from the prosaic to the global.

Start-Up Chile (SUP)

they (1) removed bottlenecks to growing revenues, (2) provided benefits immediately (rather than paying off in the long term), (3) minimized up-front expenditures, and (4) reused existing resources.

three questions that are fundamental to any company’s ability to create economic value: Who will we target as customers? What product or service will we offer? How will we provide this product at a profit?

Too often, a company’s strategy sits on a shelf, gathering dust. A strategy that doesn’t influence critical decisions on a day-to-day basis, however, is not a strategy—it is a book report.

U.S. citizens employ 1.2 million tax preparers, more than all the police and firefighters in the country combined.

Warren Weaver is not a household name, but he may be the most influential scientist you’ve never heard of, actively shaping three of the most important scientific revolutions of the last century—life sciences, information technology, and agriculture. In 1932 Weaver joined the Rockefeller Foundation to lead the division charged with supporting scientific research. Funding was scarce during the Great Depression, and the Rockefeller Foundation, with an endowment nearly twice the size of Harvard’s at the time, was one of the most important patrons of scientific research in the world. Over his three decades at the Rockefeller Foundation, Weaver acted as a banker, talent scout, and kingmaker to support the nascent field of molecular biology, a term he himself coined. Weaver had an uncanny knack for picking future all-stars. Eighteen scientists won Nobel Prizes for research related to molecular biology in the middle of the century, and Weaver had funded all but three of them.

When asked why they quit, the lapsed dieters cited complexity as the single most important reason for giving up. Simplicity is even more important when people are tired, stressed, or otherwise cognitively impaired.

When it comes to implementing a strategy of simple rules, pinpointing the precise decision or activity where rules will have the most impact is half the battle.

Willpower, it turns out, is more like a reservoir than a river. If we deploy willpower on one decision, we have less self-control available for our next decision. Many of our worst dietary choices, for example, are made in periods of low self-control—at the end of a long day when a big glass of cabernet or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s calls out our name.