Your Personal Prime Directives
I recently finished the book What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz, which is about business culture. It has interesting ideas that we can apply to the personal side as well.
The main idea behind the book is that actions and behaviors define culture more than values or ideals do. People absorb culture from behavioral norms, and culture can be changed by reshaping behaviors.
One idea that we can adapt from the book is to look at how to translate your values into behavioral rules, like a code of conduct for yourself. Many businesses have operated by such rules, such as Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” mandate – I’d say they succeeded with that one.
Instead of only thinking of your values as static words, turn them into action statements. For instance, growth and exploration are key values of mine, but I often frame them with the actionable version: Embrace the New. This reminds me to lean into new experiences instead of repeating old ones. Or when doing something familiar, try to keep approaching it in fresh ways.
What if you transformed your personal values into a list of personal directives? This could help make them more concrete and useful on a day-to-day basis.
I think a good example of this can be found in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The key values are expressed as directives like “Put first things first” and “Begin with the end in mind.” They’re still pretty general, but they can provide more actionable guidance than one-word values.
This morning at breakfast, I decided to brainstorm some of what my own directives might be. Here’s a list that I came up with. See if any of these resonate with you:
- Challenge falsehoods.
- Detox regularly.
- Find the path of flow instead of forcing it.
- Dialogue with reality.
- Clarify and declare intentions.
- Learn from direct experience.
- Exercise the body, mind, and heart daily.
- Be real on stage.
- Face fears to dissolve them.
- Encourage people.
- Share the best ideas; don’t hoard them.
- Create timeless content.
- Invite hugs over handshakes.
- Express gratitude openly.
- Take frequent vacations.
- Learn from happy and fulfilled people.
- Bet bigger where there are obvious signs of cooperation.
- Share your shame.
- If a solution isn’t forthcoming, reframe the problem.
- Do 30-day challenges to test new possibilities.
- Make it social.
- Question the assignment of meaning.
- Never use the snooze button (it doesn’t exist).
- Create from inspiration, and if the inspiration to create isn’t present, go do something else.
- Put honesty above loyalty.
- Make it fun.
- Refactor boring processes.
- Eat plants; smile at animals.
- Take ample time for being without doing.
- Decline misaligned income.
- Be an anti-racist, not a non-racist.
- Identify multiple solutions, and be willing to float among them while in motion.
- Solve the problem permanently.
- Don’t feed the trolls, including the internal ones.
- Read books from a wide variety of sources.
- Invest in opportunities.
- Stay free and preserve spaciousness.
- Release partial matches.
- Declutter and simplify.
- Go where the energy wants to flow.
- Invite chaos and order.
- Do more of what actually works and less of what doesn’t.
- Consider the character sculpting effects of decisions.
- Remember that reality gets a say too.
- Set some edgy goals.
- Ask for help.
- Do it your way.
- Quote The Princess Bride an inconceivable amount.
- Keep the email inbox perpetually empty.
- Dump the social media you doubt.
- Meet in person.
- Have your partner read critical emails to you in a sexy voice.
- Embrace the awkward beginner phase.
- Explore mile wide, mile deep.
- Transform a weakness into a strength.
- Unapologetically immerse yourself in what fascinates you.
- Use the subjective and objective lenses daily.
- Be straight with people.
- Cooperate with the simulation.
- Stick to what you actually care about instead of pretending to care.
- Laugh with people every day.
- Do what you can and will be consistent at instead of trying to force consistency where it doesn’t want to flow.
- Cuddle every day (or do whatever fills your heart with joy).
- Remember that all of this is temporary.
Of course the invitation here is to come up with your own list. And if you end up with a lengthier one like mine, another option is to compress it down to a shorter list of perhaps 10 or 12 directives max. Then you could print and post that somewhere that you’ll see it often. It can be very helpful to remind yourself of your own best rules of conduct.
Horowitz’ book applies to companies and organizations, so of course you can apply this idea there as well. One extension I’ll add is that you could start by brainstorming a list of the assumed directives based on what you see people doing, and then consider what a better code of conduct might look like. At some workplaces you might have to admit that “Don’t rock the boat” or “Pretend to care” or “Caffeinate yourself to suppress unwanted emotions (i.e. take your soma)” are assumed directives based on people’s actual behavior. Then use that reality-based list to help you discover what directives you’d like to co-create in the company or organization instead.
This also points to the empowering idea that if you want to shift a culture, what you do is more influential than what you think or say. Now where have we heard that before? It sounds a lot like, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But it’s a bit more down to earth… more like “Demonstrate the behaviors you want to see in the world.”
If you come up with some interesting prime directives of your own (or if you have such a personal code already), I’d love it if you’d share them with me. I enjoy pondering what else is possible.
Receive Steve's new articles by email.