Alan Webber’s Words to Live By
As a co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine, author Alan M. Webber has interacted with some of the world’s brightest people. These company leaders, Nobel Prize winners and heads of state have taught him the work and life lessons he has encapsulated into Rules of Thumb, a book that is as entertaining as it is informative.
The principles Rules of Thumb contains come from the interactions Webber has had with executives, spiritual leaders, coaches, writers, elected officials, teachers and other leaders from around the world. When Webber hears a valuable lesson, he writes it down on an index card and adds it to his collection. He created Rules of Thumb by selecting and expanding the top 52 lessons he has gathered over the past two decades.
The principles Webber offers go much deeper than they might seem at first glance. For example, his first lesson is “When the going gets tough, the tough relax.” While this might first appear to be a naïve way to approach the business world, Webber’s explanation turns this counterintuitive rule into a wise life lesson. What he means by these words is that tension and fear can push us away from achieving our original intentions.
To make this point, he describes an interview he conducted with former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. While he was waiting and worrying about every detail of the interview that was about to take place with the historically abrasive world leader, Webber found himself faced with an increasing level of anxiety. Mere moments before Schmidt arrived, Webber caught himself and found a better way of dealing with the interview.
He explains that he turned a tense moment into an exceptional experience by writing a note to himself on top of his writing tablet: “Relax! Smile! This is a blessing, a treat and an honor. It’s not a punishment to be endured.” The result was a pleasant meeting rather than a nightmarish interaction.
As he does with the other 51 rules in his book, Webber provides a “So What?” section that puts the rule into a larger context. For his rule about smiling and relaxing, Webber explains that total quality management founder
W. Edwards Deming described a similar philosophy when he said, “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.”
Common Sense and Valuable Lessons
Most of Webber’s rules, such as “Words matter” and “Don’t confuse credentials with talent,” are common sense, but this does not preclude them from being valuable reminders. Other lessons are more obscure, such as “If you want to be like Google, learn Megan Smith’s three rules.” Megan Smith is the quietly successful director of new business development and strategy at Google. Although she doesn’t call her tips “rules,” her advice includes these three parts: “The customer participates. The customer drives. Open systems beat closed systems.” Webber points out that if these tips work for Google, then they can work for you when you’re facing your competitors.
In Rules of Thumb, Webber illuminates important professional and personal issues with dozens of principles that describe how to simultaneously balance and improve both work and life.