It helps to know what not to do

In a single day, recently, I came across two things independently, but in which I saw a useful link. The first was a quote from management legend Peter Drucker:

We spend a lot of time teaching our leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching them what to stop.

The second was an article about developing product principles, in which the first piece of advice was

Take a stand by preferring one alternative over the other(s). State clearly that one thing is more important than the other.

They are about quite different things, but they have something important in common. They tell us we should know what not to do.

Here is the same concept in other areas:

  • I’ve recently been playing with the Go programming language. It is often described as “opinionated”, which means it is often very insistent about the way it wants you to do things; it lacks flexibility that other languages have. The positive side is that, compared to other languages, there is greater consistency between the Go code that different developers create.
  • I often talk to people about constraints and principles within a project or programme. In one discussion about these with a programme director he described the programme’s goal as the place we were driving to, and the contraints and principles were the white lines on the road that made sure we got there in the right way. I’ve used his analogy many times since.
  • A good business strategy will tell us what not to do. It will help us maintain focus.

It’s helpful to know what to do… but it’s also helpful to know what not to do. Knowing what not to do, what to stop, what to avoid, helps our decision making, allows different people to push in the same direction with less debate, improves consistency, focuses our efforts and therefore improves our efficiency.

Photo by Damian Moore

2 thoughts on “It helps to know what not to do

Comments are closed.