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Everything Begins With Principles

by David Brock on August 25th, 2013

Principle (Noun):  1.  a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief, or behavior, or for a chain of reasoning.  2.  a fundamental source or basis of something.  Synonyms:  truth, proposition, concept, idea, theory, assumption, fundamental, essential, groundrule.

It’s amazing how few conversations about business and selling begin with principles:

  • Why am I a sales person?  Why do I sell?  What do I stand for?  Is what I sell and my company aligned with what I stand for?  What are my values and beliefs?
  • Who are we as an organization?  Who are our customers?  What do we do for them?  What do we stand for?
  • What are we trying to achieve with our customers?  How do we hold them?  What do they value, how do we deliver on what they value?

Instead of talking about principles, we spend a lot of time talking about rules, “do this, do it this way, don’t do that.”  When our rules don’t cover everything, we’re lost.  We don’t know what to do.  Generally, the reaction is to create more rules.  Maybe it’s a new process or procedure.  Maybe it’s a new checklist.  There are a lot of problems with rules, processes, procedures, and checklists.  As I mentioned, when we don’t have a rule that addresses a situation, we don’t know what to do.  Rules and so forth become a poor surrogate for thinking and may keep us from understanding.

Rules are externally imposed.  They absolve us from ownership and responsibility.  “It’s not my fault, the rules say this, the procedures say that.”

Rules are the enemy of change.  They keep us doing the same things–until things start breaking down, or until we aren’t achieving our goals, or until we fail.

Can we be insightful if we don’t understand the underlying principles?  Possibly, at least we can parrot whatever “script” we are given, but can we engage in conversations?  Without understanding what underlies the insight, the basic principles, we are limited in our ability to engage others in meaningful conversations.

Principles are the foundation to problem solving.  They provide the starting point for defining the problem, what we are trying to achieve, and most importantly, why.

Don’t get me wrong, rules, processes, procedures help us to become more efficient and, sometimes, more effective.  But we have to make sure we are well grounded in the principles they are built upon, for when our rules, processes, and procedures, the underlying principles provide us the foundation for moving forward, for figuring out what’s next.

If we understand the underlying principles, something amazing happens, we don’t need as many rules, processes, procedures.  When something occurs that doesn’t fit our models, we have the ability to analyze, reflect, understand, and take action based on the principles.  Understanding principles is the ultimate empowerment–if people understand and are aligned with the principles, we know they will act consistently with those principles, they don’t have to ask permission or check the “rules.”

Things actually become simpler and clearer when we understand and are aligned with the principles.  Principles give us direction, our “True North.”

Do you understand the underlying principles to what you do, why you have chosen so?

Do you know why you have chosen to sell?  Do you know why you have chosen to sell for the company you sell for (it has to be more than just a job or money–you will never be successful if it’s just that)?  What are you trying to achieve with your customers?  Do you care?

Principles help give purpose to what we are trying to achieve.  Purpose is critical–I’ll write about this more in the future.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.



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  1. Brilliant blog post, Dave!
    Principles are what we need to successfully navigate complexity, complex sales systems and copmplex buying systems.
    Processes were designed for complicated environments, but not for complex systems, where everything is connected to everything and every action can impact the entire system.
    Thanks again for initiating this discussion!

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