I picked these up a decade ago when I went through the Executive Officer Course at the Command Leadership School, enjoyed reading them, thinking about them and summarily posted them outside my stateroom. Oddly enough they had a more significant impact than I expected and were the second most requested item from people after I transferred.

The most popular were the Battle ‘E’ certificates.

Rule 1: Timing is everything in life.
Rule 2: Bad news doesn’t get better with time.
Rule 3: 50/50/90 – Given a 50/50 chance, 90% of the time you make the wrong choice.
Rule 4: Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good—as long as you know the difference.
Rule 5: Hope is not a military course of action.
Rule 6: The first report is always wrong.
Rule 7: The second report is usually wrong.
Rule 8: Everyone is capable of error free work (you drive home thousands of times—how often do you end up at the wrong house).
Rule 9: The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of meeting the schedule has been forgotten.
Rule 10: Unhappy people vote with their feet.




Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Uncategorized


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  • OldSchoolMC

    The 3rd report is half-right and half-wrong. It’s up to you to figure out which is which (bringing into play Rule 3).

  • Jeff Gauch

    #4 is wrong. It is ALWAYS better to be lucky than good. It’s best to be both.

    #8 is one of Rickover’s dicta that has always chapped my nether regions. Sure people consistently get to the right house, but how often do they do it without exceeding the speed limit, pushing a red light, or following too closely? Any one of those would, if NR were cognizant of my commute, result in a critique and near-miss report.

    Hence my exercise of #10.

  • M.Crabtree

    After reading these Rules of Life over and over, reading varying types of context and significance into them. Comparing them to items taught in the Navy Leadership courses I have taken in the 20 to 30 year old timeframe, I have to say the only rule I agree with is number 1. This of course is based on the rule alone as a stand alone statement. This article does give me context and a better understanding of all of the Navy Times articles I have read in the last few years about the relief of Commanding Officers. I think this might be a nice venue for discussion. Thanks for the input.

  • http://blog.usni.org M. Ittleschmerz

    Crabtree – not following…

    Just to start the conversation…you think bad news gets better with time (Rule 2)?

    We can do this one at a time for discussion, would be interesting to get your perspective.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Cute. A few editorial changes(no charge):
    1. BS. Timing is important, often critical. Time is opportunity – if you don’t waste it. You have less than you think. Persistence and determination, forehandedness, and teamwork matter as much, or more.
    2. Yup. See “1″ above.
    3. BS. Too complicated to discuss on the first pass. But…BS.
    4. True, but you build luck by steadily increasing skill, and by extending loyalty, up and down – especially down.
    5. F n A.
    6. Most early reports are partial, garbled, and incomplete. Some aren’t.
    7. Failing to make a decision is a decision by default, and usually a bad one. Failing to revise a decision on the basis of better information is a
    bad decision.
    8. Nobody bats a thousand. We all make mistakes, the worst of which is to not believe that you and those you admire can and will. Almost all work is flawed, and can and should be improved when repeated. This is called learning. It is cheaper and safer to learn from the mistakes of others.
    Be sure you are right, then do it, then check if, if possible(measure twice, cut once…use the checklist…get an independent check from a qualified individual). NOTHING is sailor proof, for good or ill.
    10. Unhappy people vote with their feet as soon as they can, unless conditions change and they get happy at least some of the time. Unhappy families leave or shatter. Shatter a family and you change an asset into a liability more often than not. Ain’t Momma happy, ain’t nobody happy.
    The real take away is that sailors are not an expense, they are the ultimate force multiplier and families matter. Never promise to make things better. If you can, do it, ASAP.

    Free bonus 11: You can keep a good sailor down, but the odds and all the other good sailors in the world are against you, and if you knowingly even try, you aren’t a good sailor.

    Default orders: “Folks, this is a tough one, but you have my complete faith and trust. It really is important. Chief, take charge, keep me informed, and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.”

    The one left out: Know your ship, take care of your ship (machinery for non-Navy folk). Know your job. Do your job. Know your people. Take care of your people.

    PS: The only acceptable level of effort is the very best you can in the situation you find yourself in.

    By the way, no generalization is worth a damn, including these!

  • OldSchoolMC

    Comment on Rule 9…and we’re not meeting either item stated or the budget (see LCS, F-35, and too many other examples).

    Rule 13: Good, fast, cheap…pick any two.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Gotta love Rule 13.

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