“We do not propose any rules; we offer observations. “No right on red” is a rule. Driving at high speed toward a brick wall usually ends badly” is an observation.”
―Howard Mittelmark,How Not to Write a Novel
Oh no, I don’t hate rules like “look to your right on a crosswalk” or “never kick a tiger in his ass”. Wait… I hate those too. But not because you shouldn’t follow them (I’m almost 100% sure my readers have obeyed the second one). I hate the rules because they give me an excuse to oversimplify the situation. That’s like what mr. Taleb was talking about in his book: platonification. And that’s the primary reason I don’t read article and books titled like “N rules/habits/signs of great/good/bad/excellent leader/scientist/plumber”. Ok, I try from time to time to pick up a book with such a title, but to the moment I haven’t succeed in finishing any. One day, may be… (and articles are a total taboo for me).
Still wonder what I mean? Let’s look at issue at hands. As I said, the rules above are good to follow. You must never kick any tiger in the butt (not even dead ones: it’s not respectful, after all). But that doesn’t mean you can kick the same animal in his nose or belly. I haven’t tried this, but somehow I understand that the results will be not different enough and even faster than with his rear end. So, is the rule I’d think good enough to follow “don’t kick a tiger at all”? Well… No. Because there is also a possibility of punching him. Or putting a needle in his paw. Or… Well, you name it. So, what I believe to be a much better rule (but still not perfect) is, say, “don’t upset a tiger”. But the rules in all those books and articles is close to the first one: like kicking and rear end are the most important things in all the story. In a good book we are getting “don’t hit a tiger”. In a “philosophical book” there will be sort of “be a good person” which is totally unhelpful. In a life saving book we get something like “don’t upset a wild animal, especially predators” plus several examples, including punching a bear in the nose and playing peekaboo with venomous snakes. And in some extremely rare kind of books, I believe, the previous example would be prefaced with explaining, how wild animals react to stimuli, what kind of trouble it may cause with their claws, teeth and other “instruments”.
Why is it important to have not too specific rules? Let’s see what’s going on, when we are following the stupid rule? We tend to stop thinking. I see the path, I don’t see any obstacles. When the rule is clear, our brain is just trigger-happy to oblige, because it doesn’t spend resources. It is SIMPLE. Thinking of
А) Is upsetting a wild cat dangerous?
B) May your next action upset the wild cat?
is not easy. Remembering that there was no “wild cat” and “slap across the head” in “never kick a tiger in his ass” – easy. Of course there is no harm in slapping our wild cat across its head!
If we’re talking real world (ok, not real, what I see around), then some of the often occurring scenarios are
1) implementing some process, or framework, or something. Say, ITIL, Lean, Kanban, whatever.
2) trying to become a Jobs or Gates (or Trump for that matter) people read books about what qualities do the guys have.
What many people do? They go easy way: read a book, get tools and use them (Well, I’m a bit idealising here: most people don’t do anything after reading. Heck! Most people don’t read at all! 😉 ). That’s it. You want to be successful? Great, you should sleep 4 hours a day, like Napoleon and get expelled from school like Einstein. Want great IT? Get ITIL Library and to put to work every processes with all the controls it describes.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. If someone is good at what he does, and everyone agrees, then I’m almost sure, he sticks to all the rules from the book. But if we just take those rules and implement them to our own life, it won’t guarantee anything. Say, there is the Pomodoro technique. It is great, but most people talking about it usually refer to the pomodoro timer as the necessary and enough condition for the technique to bring most value. It doesn’t work, because there is much more to it. Well, working in pomodoros may help. But it won’t help near so much as if you read the book and understood, why there are elements of planning and retrospective in it.
So, what I say is that it’s not enough to read some rules from a book and apply them in a straightforward fashion. They usually are too specific, and life is rich on events and diverse. What you need to get (and it is possible to get from almost any kind of books) is understanding of what and why is going on when your boot meets some bottom side. And what and why is going to happen next. And what and why one should do to avoid all those commotions.
And that’s in short, why I hate reading certain texts =)