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May 27, 2009 - Issue #65

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Rules of Thumb

Imagine a job in which you were asked to interview remarkable business leaders. Every day the sharpest minds in the world of work would sit across from your desk, share a meal, chat by phone, or send you emails. They would speak to you of their stumbles and successes, their frustrations and innovations. Most of all, they would tell stories about what they had learned in navigating the terrain of contemporary business.

Alan Webber occupied such a seat for 20 years, first as editorial director of the Harvard Business Review and then as co-founder (with Bill Taylor) of Fast Company magazine until 2000. Fortunately for us, he asked good questions and took detailed notes along the way.

Webber has compiled the lessons gleaned from those decades of interviews into his new book, Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself. In 52 brief (3-to-5-page) chapters he distills a story, then answers "So What?" by providing insights on how to apply the lesson.

There's gold to be mined in this book, and nearly every chapter holds value for soloists. Here are some of my favorite Webber rules:

#6: If you want to see with fresh eyes, reframe the picture.
"Here's the real benefit to reframing," Webber writes. "It not only helps you see yourself differently, it shows your customers how you see them."

#11: We've moved from an "either/or" past to a "both/and" future.
Webber writes about creating "new lines of sight," so that you're looking at issues from a new dimension. Instead of being tied to an old grid of either/or, think diagonally and envision new opportunities.

#9: Nothing happens until money changes hands.
The best business idea in the world remains just that -- an idea -- until it's funded. As Webber observes: "Money isn't the be-all and end-all, even for entrepreneurs. But it is the start-all."

#34: Simplicity is the new currency.
In a world brimming with complexity, there's power in simplicity. The irony is that it's often more difficult to create. Don't be tempted to add "one more thing" to your product or service, Webber advises. Customers are craving simple solutions that will make their lives easier.

There's more, much more here for soloists -- on asking the last question first; how context (not content) is king; on managing the emotional flow of entrepreneurial ventures; the case for "serious fun"; and how everything communicates. (There's also a Web site for Rule #53 to which readers can contribute.)

Reading Rules of Thumb took me back to the early days of Fast Company, when you'd turn a page and have an "ah-hah" moment of new insight or fresh perspective. It's great to see that Alan Webber hasn't lost his touch for sharing valuable business lessons wrapped in engaging stories.

-- Terri Lonier

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Working Solo Minute is published each Wednesday by Working Solo, Inc. and is based on the work of author and small business expert Terri Lonier. Copyright 1994-2009. All rights reserved.
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