Eleven Simple Steps to a Better Career Than You Deserve

Here are eleven simple rule for success in business. Well, they may be simple, but that doesn't make them easy. But it's nice to have a short list to work from, and most of the time business really is about this simple. Simple rules do oversimplify, of course, but they can be used in personal experiments. For example, pick a rule and emphasize it for a day or a week.
    1. At the end of every day, ask yourself, "What did I learn today?" Be brutally honest. You might write down the answers, but if so never mention this to anyone.
    2. Keep a list of commitments you’ve made and commitments made to you. It’s OK to do this in a very public way.
    3. Keep your commitments. Every one. Don’t commit to what you can’t or won’t do.
    4. When you are unsure if you should say something, say nothing.
    5. When you are unsure if you should take offense at something, do not take offense.
    6. Be loyal to your subordinates and your superiors. Only then will you see true loyalty in return. If you are hard to replace, your boss will probably keep you even if they do not like or trust you. However, if your subordinates do not like or trust you, eventually they will destroy you. The worst thing a boss can normally do is fire you. (Sometimes this is also the best thing a boss can do.) Your subordinates can destroy your career.
    7. Consistently focus on the fundamentals: you will succeed even if you are not particularly talented. If you are particularly talented, you will still fail if you do not focus on the fundamentals.
    8. Make everything as simple as possible. Start out with too simple and add complication ‘til it works.
    9. Try to see the best in people. It’s natural to compare other people’s worst behavior to your best behavior, but you can’t afford that distorted view. When people do dumb or mean stuff, take the action you think needs to be taken, but have some mercy in your opinion of them.
    10. Avoid speculating on effort estimates. Your speculations will be treated as commitments. Every time you break this rule, it will come back to haunt you. Every time.
    11. If you have a sense of humor, tastefully show it.



Success is a story. The story is always the same:
    1. There is a problem.
    2. You tackle this problem.
    3. You do something clever, brave, or difficult.
    4. The problem is solved.
You need to build up a collection of such stories. If they are good stories, others will tell them. The stories become part of the mythos of your company (or even your industry), and you acquire a positive reputation.
    Try to get assigned work that is likely to result in a good success story, and avoid work that is likely to result in no story or a failure story. (There are failure stories too. They are same, except steps 3 and 4 are missing.)
    There are things you can do that are beneficial to the company and enjoyable, but have no potential for a good success story. You can sometimes indulge in such work, but if you do too much of this kind of stuff, you’ll get a reputation as someone who isn’t going anywhere, who’s career has maxed out. Maybe it’s true. If you are happy doing your current job until you retire, go ahead and seek out “invisible” work.
    What makes for a good story? Things that are related to the company’s core business makes for better stories. People understand the core business better and care about it more, so there is more dramatic potential. The problem you attack must be important. There must be a real threat to the business or a real opportunity to seize. Stories involving hated competitors or strongly desired yet previously unattainable customers are always good. The work must appear difficult or risky, so that the hero (you) appears brave. It’s best if the project is a sure bet and only appears risky, but it’s not likely that people will be fooled. You will probably have to show at least a little actual bravery. Really, courage in business is rare enough that courageous failure isn’t punished nearly as much as people think. Go ahead and show some spine. After all, it’s not like you will be literally executed if you fail.



Loyalty is always reciprocal. If you are loyal to your people, they will follow you through fire. Be loyal to your boss. If you don’t think your boss is loyal in return, get a new boss.
    Loyalty means you stand by people, even at personal cost. It doesn’t mean you mindlessly back people up when they’re wrong. It means you give them honest answers, and keep your commitments. It means you take their objectives to be, in part, yours.
    Loyalty plus success is how you build a faction that will support you. It’s how you make a name for yourself. If you have successes, but there is no mutual loyalty between you and your people, you will not make a name for yourself. This is because it is the words others say about you that makes your reputation. People will stick up for you if there is loyalty between them and you. This is a very important idea in building one’s career. A career is success stories, loyalty, and little else.
...a young prince must be prudent,
giving freely while his father lives
so that afterwards in age when fighting starts
steadfast companions will stand by him
and hold the line. Behavior that’s admired
is the path to power among people everywhere.
    - Beowulf



Listening is a big part of your job. In most conversations, you create more value by listening than by speaking. You must convey information and inspire, but you must also listen.
    Here’s an interesting experiment: record a conversation of ten or fifteen minutes with someone, using one of those microrecorders. Ask the person’s permission first before you record. Normally, this works better if you don’t choose someone from work for the experiment. At the end of the recording, write down what percentage of the time you think you were speaking versus the other person, how many times you cut them off in mid-sentence, and how many times they cut you off. At your convenience, listen to the tape twice.
    The first time, use a stop watch to record the fraction of the time you spoke. The easiest way to do this is to measure the total conversation length with your wristwatch, and use the stopwatch to record your speaking time. Wait for the other person to start speaking before you mark the end of your speaking time, so the entire conversation is spit into your speaking time and their speaking time.
    The second time, count the number of times each of you interrupts the other.
    If you are a man and want a humbling result, record a conversation with a woman.