The Rule of Two Rules of Thumb


You’ve heard them before and probably used them yourself… rules of thumb. Expressions like “stick to your knitting” and “we’ve got to focus like a laser.” We use them as data to prove our point or as a means of adding authority to our choices. The reality is that the “team alignment is key” rule of thumb is offset by the rule for “thinking outside the box” and “putting the team first” seems to counteract “personal responsibility.”

Pairs of Thumbs

I’ve found most rules of thumb come in pairs, each pulling in the opposite direction.

Does the reality of opposing rules invalidate them? Not necessarily, but you should try using them together. Using just one is a crutch for real thinking. If you have to deal with them as a pair, your reasoning will be much deeper and your view more expansive.

Ying and yang are opposites, but that certainly doesn’t negate their effect. Their paradoxical nature creates something greater than either offers individually - the pair creates balance and wholeness. When you rely on just one rule of thumb, your foundation is weak. If your idea creates connects and harmonizes two opposing rules, your more likely to standing on solid ground.

For example, creativity and alignment can be balanced by having a routine where ideation is fostered by active listening and then once a decision is made people rally behind that one decision. Some organizations see creativity as king. They have lots of ideas, but they are often so distracted by bright and shiny objects that they never get anything done. Other groups see alignment as the singular path to success. If headed in the wrong direction, they are likely to march in lock step right off a cliff. Bringing creative and alignment together you gain more than either idea offers on its own.

Two Thumbs

Next time you’re ready to invoke a rule of thumb, think twice before you use just one. It’s a crutch for real thinking. Find its opposite, look for balance, and go deep.