Matters of Principle

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 4 min read

Over this past weekend, I went to an amazing bookstore in Georgetown.

I managed to walk out having only purchased three books at Bridge Street books…though I had my eyes on many more.

One of the books that I bought was called The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda. It was a short 100-page book that I finished on the train ride back to Philadelphia. Though the book was published back in 2006, the subject matter is timeless, and the approach that the book outlines requires only a modest revisit when considering more recent technological advancements.

In the second chapter, the author discusses the law of “organize.” In this chapter, I came upon a paragraph that jumped off of the page.

“What program do you use?” is a question I often get about the slides are used to present my work. I have concluded that the proper answer to the question is to counter suggest the asking a different question, “what principle do you use?”

Nested in this book, is this profoundly important idea that everyone should adopt, even if you are not in pursuit of simplicity.

Tools

When I was younger, I thought a better baseball bat would make me a better hitter. I thought a better tennis racket would make me a better tennis player. I thought a faster computer would make me a better writer, filmmaker, or student.

None of it was true.

What I really needed was a better swing, an understanding of different tennis strategies, and the ability to harness my focus or leverage alternative learning modalities.

Theory

two reels

My undergraduate degree was in Film and Media Arts from Temple University. The vast majority of the program was theory (over practice). We spent far more time analyzing film than we did making film. I’ve seen the Odessa Steps scene from the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein, more times than I can count. At the time, I hated it. The film was old and I wanted to watch Pulp Fiction instead. I was eager to DO something, and it appeared that all we did was talk and think about film.

In retrospect, I wish that I’d been more engaged.

Understanding how to think about film, would’ve given me a larger context from which to draw and express myself creatively once I began making film and telling stories.

Principles in Practice

blue ballpoint pen on white notebook

Principles are fundamental building blocks. It is a set of ideas on which everything after it can rest upon. Principles can encompass laws (both natural and legal), values, accepted practices and theories, or really anything else foundational to a subject matter. Principles influence strategy which influence tactics. Therefore, the principles you adhere to, define the boundaries of your work.

Branding is a discipline with deep roots. It rests upon guiding principles that help allow an organization to weather any storm or change in the c-suite. These guiding principles influence marketing, sales, operations, recruitment and more… A successful Brand is more than just logos, colors, and clever taglines.

A successful salesperson is more likely to think about sales in a particular way than they are to have memorized a script. Sales can be about helping people (ideally) and it can also be about manipulating people in order to get your commission. These are two distinct approaches that give indicators of someone’s guiding principles. These foundations will dictate your outcomes more reliably than a change in price or redesign of sales materials.

Checking Boxes

man in white long sleeve shirt writing on white board

One of the other ways in which I work with companies is as an Asana certified pro, helping organizations (primarily agencies), to design their project management system in the tool known as Asana. I know a great deal about Asana. The various features, the best practices based on the level of subscription, and even the methods of hacking around limitations of the system.

Yet, no successful implementation of Asana throughout my career is because of Asana, the tool. Rather, in every instance where the system was successfully adopted, it was the guiding principles rather than the tour that allowed the organization to grow and flourish.

Nothing happens without what, but few things succeed without why.

Look at what you’re working on right now and then ask why you’re doing it, and why you’re doing it in that particular way? In short: “what principle do you use?”

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