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Simple Rules by Donald Sull

I just finished reading “Simple Rules” by Donald Sull. After reading the introduction, I had to continue. The book begins by describing how military surgeons in wartime situations make decisions on who to treat first, and who not to treat. It’s brutal; the decisions have immediate life and death consequences so they can’t second guess decisions. Right from that moment in the first chapter I realized if this technique was good enough for military surgeons and helped them – it was something I needed to learn.
Donald Sull starts his book with a story that gets you hooked, and continues telling stories to drive home points throughout the book. Every concept, idea and technique he puts forward is accompanied by a story or anecdote from his seemingly endless supply. The ideas are woven into his stories, and each one illustrates a point well. While I enjoyed this technique as a reader, one critique I have is that I found it difficult to pull out the core ideas as each concept was woven into a story at a different point. I’m someone who makes lists and takes notes, and it was hard to pull out good notes without breaking up the narrative.

So what are simple rules?


Here’s an example “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – which distills the nutritional insights of Michael Pollan into a handful of words.

“Simple words consist of a handful of guidelines applied to a specific activity or decision, such as deciding what to eat.” – Donald Sull, pg 25

The concept is simple but takes a while to figure out how to apply to your specific situation. The book gives great examples, and makes it easy to feel like you can fit the technique to your situation. The thing I liked most is the idea of memorability and usability of the rules.

Where I work we spend a lot of time on User Experience for on-screen interfaces, and spend a lot of time thinking about how users add and edit content. Simple Rules as a technique for decisions feels like you’re considering the user experience of decision making and improving the experience through good tools and techniques. I really like being thoughtful about how we make decisions and giving my team clear guidelines about how to make good decisions quickly.

It’s worth a read to identify how you can simplify your decision making process either at work, to empower a team, or personally.

Check out the book on Amazon

wim wenders on storytelling

On my bike ride into work today I listened to a podcast from the Economist interviewing Wim Wenders about storytelling. When I was younger I saw Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders and was hooked on his films. This interview brought forward what I like most about Wenders, his laconic style of speaking and reflection on his work that gives you incredible insight into his thinking in a few short sentences.

I saw the film PINA  when it first came out in theaters and from my past experience with the black and white films of Wenders was surprised to learn this was a 3D film – mostly in colour. It was a great film, and the thing I enjoyed most was the mix of storytelling and technology. Wenders had appreciated Pina and her work for 20 years, and had always wanted to make a movie about her work – to tell her story. However he didn’t think film could capture the breadth and motion of her work. When 3D filming became practical – that’s when he decided he could tell her story, and made a movie in this medium. I knew Wenders as a film maker who used black and white film as his medium when I was younger, and was curious that he was embracing this new technology. I was greatly inspired by the film and even more inspired by Wenders’ attitude towards technology. 

The Economist interview brings out Wender’s thinking about technology as a tool that we should use to do more and tell better stories. It lines up with my own philosophy of what technology is for. It’s a vehicle for better stories and information, and should not be an end in itself.

In the Economist interview – Wenders was identifying that people now make movies on iPhones. And he really likes that – the technology allows us to tell stories that we could not before, either due to the size, cost or complexity of a film camera, relative to the simplicity and mobility of a phone.

I’ve always liked his work, and enjoyed his thinking, and this interview is a great example of both things coming together. This interview is worth a listen if you appreciate good storytelling, and Wenders reflection on the current plight of people fleeing Syria and settling in Germany in the last 90 seconds is fascinating.

Wim Wenders – Storytelling – The Economist:  https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-economist-radio-all-audio/id151230264?mt=2&i=354354548