Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No assholes

I’ve never met Bob Sutton, but I think I like him. Dr. Sutton is a prof at Stanford, cofounder in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and a cofounder and active member of the new “d.school,” a multi-disciplinary program that teaches and spreads “design thinking.” He is also an IDEO Fellow and author of several (have yet to read any of them) books, including The No Asshole Rule. (If I had the talent and ambition to author a like book, it probably would be entitled The No Scallywag/Ferret/Fathead/Bozo/Eyeore Rule; that said, “asshole” is an apt label.) Sutton’s my kind of guy.

Sutton’s blog is bountiful and provocative. Dig around and you’ll quickly kill an enjoyable half-hour or three … a recent post, Realists vs. Idealists: Thoughts about Creativity and Innovation, is tremendous. Quick excerpt: … in innovation, the people who precisely quantify – or try to quantify – the risks of any new idea can often come up with excellent reasons why a particular idea is likely to fail (Eyeores!), and indeed, since most new ideas have a high failure rate, they are usually right when their logic – whatever numbers they assign – is applied to any particular new idea.

Sutton’s thinking is encapsulated in “15 Things I Believe,” a terse treatise for creators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and anti-assholes:

1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all -- first do no harm!
2. Indifference is as important as passion.
3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can't have both at the same time.
4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
5. Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
6. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
7. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
8. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
9. The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.
10. The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
11. The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
12. The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
13. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
14. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
15. Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity.
Reminds me a little of (paraphrased) Dr. Kilgore Trout (Vonnegut): Our purpose in life is to fart around.

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