The Simple Principles of Good Management

Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize laureate and polymath, offered many contributions to the world in fields such as computer science/artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, economics, and management.

This brief excerpt, taken from his remarkable autobiography, offers some timeless wisdom.

The principles of good management are simple, even trivial. They are not widely practiced for the same reason that Christianity is not widely practiced. It is not enough to know what the principles are; you must acquire deeply ingrained habits of carrying them out, in the face of all sorts of strong urges to stray onto more comfortable and pleasant paths, to respond without inhibition to provocations, and just to goof off. “

Micheal Jordan could tell you every insight and secret he knows about basketball and you still wouldn’t play basketball like him.  The same goes for other things. Mark Leonard, Steve Jobs, Tobi Lutke, Jeff Bezos or any other phenomenal CEO could sit down with you and explain all the insights and nuances and you still wouldn’t replicate their performance.

The greats can only share all there is to teach about the subject. The problem is that’s not all there is to learn.

The principles of good management are simple but not easy. Mastering them will give you slightly above average performance.

If you want exceptional results, you need to learn things that can’t be taught. Consider two things rarely found together patience and extreme decisiveness.

Patience is one of those things that’s easy to understand and hard to practice. That’s what makes it so rare and so valuable. It’s easy to say no to bad opportunities. It’s hard to say no to average opportunities so you have room for the good ones. It’s even harder to say no to good opportunities so you have room for great ones. One way to improve your patience is to be as proud of the opportunities you say no to as the ones you say yes to.

Deciding to commit in a meaningful way is hard. While you might know all the data and have confidence in your decision, acting on it in a way that’s going to make a huge difference if you’re right isn’t something you’re taught. Most of us would prefer the comfort of a group decision or the hindsight knowing how things played out, wishing we had committed in a more meaningful way. No one can teach you when to go all in. One small way to improve your decisiveness is to start making decisions as a person, not a group. A person makes decisions. Groups provide information.

The most important things can’t be taught, they must be learned. Just because you can’t be taught what you need doesn’t mean you can absolve yourself from learning. You can learn the principles but you can’t learn the patience. You can copy the answer but not the understanding and confidence. These you need to learn on your own.


The idea that ‘some things can’t be taught, they must be learned’ first came to my attention in a conversation with Naval Ravikant.