First Principles, Then Process

Develop the habit of rereading some of your best “old” books.  Just like great “old” people, you will be amazed how relevant great “old” books still are and what you can learn. You will once again read great advice and perspectives you read years ago that you are still not most effectively applying to your personal and professional life.

I just reread the book entitled, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround.  Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Chairman and CEO of IBM from April 1993 until March 2002, tells the fascinating story of IBM’s extraordinary competitive and cultural transformation.  IBM was gasping for air, sinking fast and literally “on the ropes” when Gerstner joined IBM.  By the time Gerstner retired, IBM was again highly profitable and a major worldwide leader, innovator and contributor in its field.

In the chapter entitled Leading by Principles, Gerstner states, “I believe all high-performance companies are led and managed by principles, not by process.  Decisions need to be made by leaders who understand the key drivers of success in the enterprise and then apply those principles to a given situation with practical wisdom, skill, and a sense of relevancy to the current environment.”

And so it is with each and every one of us.  In all areas of our lives, we should lead and manage by principles, not by process.  We should be leaders and professionals who understand the key drivers of success in our personal and professional lives and in our enterprises.  Then, we should apply those principles to each situation we face with practical wisdom, skill and a sense of relevancy to the current environment.

How very different our world would be if all people and organizations, or a majority of people and organizations, or even a significant minority of people and organizations followed Gerstner’s advice.  In a million ways, our world would be totally different… and so much better… and collectively, so much more successful (however each of us define success).

I invite you to find your “old” copy of Gerstner’s book on a dusty shelf somewhere.  Many of you have a copy stashed somewhere, maybe in a box in the garage or attic.  If you don’t have a copy, buy one or check one out at your local library.  Plenty of copies of the book are readily available, new or used.  The book is still a great investment.  You will be amazed at its relevant wisdom for our current environment.

If you don’t have time or interest in reading or at least skimming the entire book for great ideas and advice, at least carefully read pages 200 – 203.  Gerstner writes “In September 1993 I wrote out eight principles that I thought ought to be the underpinnings of IBM’s new culture and sent them to all IBM employees worldwide in a special mailing.”  Gerstner provides a title for each principle and elaborates briefly on each.  In respect for copyright laws, I will not copy the titles and his explanation of each.  Go to pages 200 – 203 of the book and study them… they are well worth the read.  The eight principles address:

  1. The driving force behind everything we do
  2. The core of our competency
  3. Primary measures of success
  4. The mindset we need
  5. Strategic vision… shared and well understood
  6. Urgency… “constructive impatience”
  7. Cherish and reward teamwork
  8. Employees and the communities in which we operate

As you read the eight principles (less than two pages) substitute yourself, your family, your life and your business where you see the references to IBM.  It would be impossible, in my opinion, to thoughtfully read and think about these eight principles, relative to your life and your business, without discovering or rediscovering many opportunities for personal, professional and organizational improvement. That means greater success in your life!


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I am a leader, speaker, and author who is passionate about Leadership Excellence and Achieiving Greater Success. I am the author of the books Be An Inspirational Leader(2016) and Presidential Leadership (2013), and deliver keynote presentations on those topics and several others.

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