We Need to Study Failure

The more time you spend talking about what you have been doing, the less time you have to do what you have been talking about.

As a young man growing up in Colorado, Norman Augustine loved the outdoors, loved studying rocket ships and worked hard to become an Eagle Scout. These interests eventually took him to Princeton University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. His incredible career has seen him earn 34 honorary degrees, be selected as one of the 50 Great Americans and stand on both the North and South Poles. Augustine will turn 85 in a few days.

There is not much he hasn’t accomplished, and there is much we can learn from his wisdom. Fortunately, Augustine shared his experience in his book called “Augustine Laws,” which details 52 of his essential tenets. These laws were taken not from successful companies but rather from companies that failed. After all, we can often learn more from studying failure than success.

Here are a Baker’s Dozen of the best laws of Norman Augustine:

  1. There are no lazy lion hunters. The margin between any victory and defeat is minuscule.

  2. The “optimum committee” has no members. 

  3. The last ten percent of the workforce generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems. 

  4. Before finishing first, you must first finish. 

  5. “Quantity” has a quality of all its own. 

  6. Rules, regulations, policies, reports, and organization charts are not a substitute for sound management judgment. 

  7. The more time you spend talking about what you have been doing, the less time you have to do what you have been talking about. Eventually, you spend more and more time talking about less and less until finally, you spend all your time talking about nothing. 

  8. It is very expensive to achieve high unreliability. It is not uncommon to increase the cost of an item by a factor of ten for each factor of ten degradations accomplished.

  9. Hiring consultants to conduct studies can be an excellent means of turning problems into gold — your problems into their gold.

  10. Adding people to speed up a late software project just makes it later.

  11. Logic in presenting decision options, consequences, benefits, and risks is imperative. Whenever parameters can be quantified, it is usually desirable to do so.

  12. Self-image is as important in business as in sports.

  13. Motivation makes the difference. 

It’s a book that every leader/coach should have on his or her desk. Most of his rules apply. Thank you, Norman. 


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