In Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World Sull and Eisenhardt masterfully challenge how we think about complexity and offer a new lens on how to cope. They take us on a surprising tour of what simple rules are, where they come from, and why they work
Four common traits that define simple rules
University of California professor and author Michael Pollan distilled his nutritional insights into three simple rules: ” Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ By food, Pollan means real food–vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and meat and fish–rather than what he calls ‘edible food-like substances’ found in the processed-food aisles of the grocery store.
Pollan’s rules for healthy eating, posted on family refrigerators around the world, illustrate the four common traits that define simple rules.
First off, the number of rules matter. Simple rules consist of a handful of guidelines applied to a specific activity or decision, such as deciding what to eat.
Second, simple rules are tailored to the situations of the particular people who will use them, versus one-size-fits-all rules that apply to everyone.
Third, simple rules are applied to a single, well-defined activity or decision, such as choosing what to eat or prioritizing injured soldiers for medical care.
Finally, simple rules give concrete guidance without being overly prescriptive. Pollan’s rules for healthy eating do not specify whether you should have blueberries or cantaloupe or kale for lunch.
Crafting rules to seize opportunities may seem like a modern innovation, but simple rules have been used throughout history
Detailed rules are particularly useful for avoiding catastrophic errors, such as plane crashes, mishaps in nuclear power plants, and surgical deaths that result from known cases.
Pilots are fond on saying that ‘checklists are written in blood,’ a reference to how these lists were developed in the first place. When an airplane accident occurs, aviation investigators retrieve the black box and pinpoint the accident’s cause. If the cause is novel, the investigators add a new item to the preflight checklist to prevent a similar accident in the future.
Similarly every surgeon knows that the three of the top killers in surgery are bleeding, infection, and inapropriate anesthesia. Although these errors are common knowledge, taking measures to prevent them is not always common practice.