It's not about rules; It's about principles Featured

8:01pm EDT April 30, 2011
It's not about rules; It's about principles


Business success, like success in any pursuit, is about the consummate understanding and mastery of key principles — not about following rules.

Principle 1: Principles rule

A rule states, “You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works — and usually works well — and has done so through all remembered time.” The difference is crucial.

The anxious and inexperienced try to follow rules. The rebellious, unschooled and ignorant break rules, usually unwittingly so. Still, all of these types of practitioners try to succeed focusing upon only subsets of situations without realizing how all of the forces at work interact in both conflicting and supporting ways.

Principle 2: Commanding knowledge

You must possess a commanding knowledge of your field, the setting and the situations. Problems are always opportunities in disguise, but you must thoroughly understand the problems before you can provide unique or preferred solutions. But, “commanding knowledge” does not mean an extended awareness into every nook and cranny and every crevice of an existent situation. Rather, it means thorough knowledge of everything germane and relevant.

Principle 3: Constraints conspire to inspire

The greatest achievers in business or life usually find conflicts, difficulties, obstacles and obstructions useful. The more resistant the opposing forces, the stronger the muscle becomes that strains against them.

Among the best and brightest, constraints don’t inhibit creativity and resourcefulness — they encourage, stimulate and inspire them. Too often, antagonistic and hurtful forces conspire with their own inadequacies and limitations to undermine the efforts of achievement-oriented persons.

Success demands that these “resistances” be somehow overcome or, better still, be used to achieve goals.

Principle 4: Understanding people

Since all of this involves a great number of human beings, the genius lies heavily in developing a realistic view and understanding of human nature. The first such understanding is the realization that human nature is versatile, protean to the ultimate. The next understanding is that we humans are mixtures of extremes and not a blended average. We are each as good as the best that we have done and as bad as the worst.

So, a successful business leader, like anyone who is able to positively and constructively interact with others, has neither a utopian nor a pessimistic view of human beings.

Rather, they know that people are a mixture of good and bad, generosity and greed, selfishness and magnanimity, ignorance and enlightenment, stupidity and cleverness, and kindness and ruthlessness.

Principle 5: Trust is the coin of the realm

Businesses must attract customers, staff and capital. In these attractions, trust is the coin of the realm. So, trust must never be depreciated or violated in any way. In the various halls and rooms of the offices of my company, Cincom, throughout the world, we feature a poster that succinctly advises that, “Trust Builds Relationships; Execution Builds Results.” 

Trust and respect are twin imperatives of all success and of all positive, constructive relationships.

Principle 6: Productivity counts

Results determine whether a business succeeds or fails. Results are driven by productivity in any business. Productivity is a principle cast in iron. Production must be greater than costs. Pragmatism and excellence of execution are both essential. But, so too is everything else upon which trust and respect are created.

Business creators and entrepreneurial leaders have changed the world for the better in many ways, large and small. And as we move forward in these troubled economic times, we will face adversity, triumphs and tragedies. But remember, when struggling or in doubt, go back to the beginning and remember that principles rule.

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. Learn more about Nies at