Friday Fun Day (#FFD): Crowd-Sourced Rules for Success

Yesterday, I experienced moments of surprise and curiosity related to some recent instances of people not seeming to recognize the name of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, the founder of Lockheed Martin's SkunkWorks. On Facebook and on Twitter, I had conversations with several of you about Kelly Johnson's legacy, which prompted me to do a quick web refresher course of my own.

In the course of my web hunting, I became re-acquainted with Kelly's Rules, in which he codified fourteen strategies for the continued success of SkunkWorks. Although a few of them are quite specific to Lockheed Martin, the rules still make a nice set of guidelines for success in the aerospace industry--in fact, probably in any industry. I'll give the full list below.

Many of you are probably familiar with Peter's Laws (not to be confused with tennis pro Peter Laws, a collection or rules for professional success compiled by our own Peter Diamandis back in the late 80s. They definitely have a different tone that Kelly's Rules, but are equally worth reading. I'll also reproduce that full list below.

Reading through these got me thinking: if Kelly Johnson and Peter Diamandis could both come up with these lists of helpful rules, why not us?

Which brings us to today's Friday Fun Day Challenge. Let's build a crowd-sourced set of rules for success! In the comments to this post, please leave the rules that you personally live by, or which you have seen lead to systematic improvements. They can related to your professional life or to your home life--just try to make sure they are as close to universally applicable. I'd love it if you also shared a bit of the why or the how behind these rules--how did you develop them? How have they worked in your own career? At the end of the day, I'll compile all of these into a master list, and we'll see what we've got. Maybe we'll even get a poster of our own!

I encourage you to get an early start on this--I've got a suspicion you are going to have something else very Fun to deal with this afternoon (Update! The distraction I alluded to this morning is now public: enjoy the awesome new features in Google Mars!... I'll try to chime in with my own suggested rules in a few hours, but don't be shy--get us started!

I'll leave you with the original inspiration for this post, Kelly's Rules and Peter's Laws.

Kelly's Rules
1. The Skunk Works® manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher.

2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.

3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).

4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.

5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.

6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. Don't have the books ninety days late and don't surprise the customer with sudden overruns.

7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.

8. The inspection system as currently used by the Skunk Works®, which has been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don't duplicate so much inspection.

9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn't, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles.

10. The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works® practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended.

11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn't have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.

12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.

13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.

14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.

Peter's Laws
1. If anything can go wrong, Fix It!! (To hell with Murphy!)
2. When given a choice -- Take Both!!
3. Multiple projects lead to multiple successes.
4. Start at the top then work your way up.
5. Do it by the book ... but be the author!
6. When forced to compromise, ask for more.
7. If you can't beat them, join them, then beat them.
8. If it's worth doing, it's got to be done right now.
9. If you can't win, change the rules.
10. If you can't change the rules, then ignore them.
11. Perfection is not optional.
12. When faced without a challenge, make one.
13. "No" simply means begin again at one level higher
14. Don't walk when you can run.
15. Bureaucracy is a challenge to be conquered with a righteous attitude, a tolerance for stupidity,
and a bulldozer when necessary.
16. When in doubt: THINK!
17. Patience is a virtue, but persistence to the point of success is a blessing.
18. The squeaky wheel gets replaced.
19. The faster you move, the slower time passes, the longer you live.
20. The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself!

William said...

If, for some reason, you'd rather leave your law/rule anonymously, feel free to send them to me via Twitter, Facebook, email, or the GLXP forum / private message service. Sorry, I cannot accept semaphore or smoke signals.

mike fabio said...

Failure is always an option.

Matt said...

TANSTAAFL - There Aint' No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. This is from many Heinlein novels (and maybe other places, I don't know where he got it). In the books, this rule gets applied to almost everything from orbital mechanics and engineering, socioeconomic scenarios, and especially personal interactions. I have found it to apply to systems engineering particularly well.

Paolo Amoroso said...

Answer all explicit or implicit questions you get by email.

Why: if someone asks you a question, she really needs the information. If you don't answer all questions, you make the process inefficient by forcing the sender to ask again, and reduce trust in you.

How I developed the rule: think to how many times you asked questions and didn't get answers, and how you felt.

How this rule worked in my own career: I hope someone did notice that I tried to answer all questions.

Stiles said...

One of my favorite sayings is: don't go kicking down doors when you already hold a set of keys.

On a side note, have you seen Augustine's Laws? Norman Augustine is a former CEO of Lockheed, and he wrote laws about the aerospace business such as:

"If a sufficient number of management layers are superimposed on each other, it can be assured that disaster is not left to chance."


"The last 10 percent of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems."

He wrote a great book called "Augustine's Laws". I also found a website with a list of some of his laws at!

Gonz037 said...

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Jason J. Dunn said...

Being successful is 10% of knowing what your doing and 90% of convincing people that you know what your doing.

snibble said...

When in doubt, ask. While you're waiting for a response, try something!

Honza SmolĂ­k said...

We have couple of sayings in our outdoor sports club, that can be taken diractly to the company life:
"If you must (do it) you want (to do it." There is no reason for not wanting, it does not help you.
"Experience does not have to be pleasant, it has to be strong". Or shortly "The worse, the better".

Michael Laine said...

Michael's Rules

1) You live your values - whatever MATTERS to you, rises to the top of your to-do list and you act on it. Everything else is just posturing.

2) Mission / Vision / Values must be consistent with each other, used in daily activity, and used as a guidepost when faced with choices.

3) Don't show me your "Mission Statement"; show me your BUDGET! Your budget will reflect your values better than any 'Boardroom/Press Kit/Website Propaganda' Mission Statement.

4) You MUST balance Stakeholder requirements against an array of Challenges.

5) Timing -really- is everything. Learning how to adjust to "bad times" is important. Enjoy the "good times". Neither "good" nor "bad" will last.

6) Luck helps, a lot. More than you think... Luck can be manufactured. Manufacture buckets of Luck. Yet, Luck is pointless, if you are unprepared to act on it. So, be prepared for Luck and ACT!

7) The Network Effect and the Rule of Big Numbers can, transform the civilization. It has before. It will again. Combined with #5 and #6, this is especially powerful.

8) Actions have consequences. Sometimes these are predictable. Often they are not. Act based on you Mission, Vision and Values and you will probably like the results better.

9) Assume you will succeed and you've a much greater chance at it.

10) Other people are acting on their own Mission / Vision / Values. Some people are actively working against you; deal with it. On the other hand, collaborate with the ones whose MV2 are in congruence with yours. (Refer to #7)
11) If you want to 'Build Something Great', be unreasonable, be committed, be willing, be bold and be right.

** The following is a concept I learned in the US Marine Corp. It's vulgar, but any tamed-down version loses so much of the impact that the neutered version seems pointless. And I think it's an important concept, worth adding to this list. Sorry if it a little offensive.**

12) Sometimes you have to prove you've "got the balls" for something. To do that, you have to "put your dick on the table". Sometimes, "you get your dick cut right off", but at least you took the chance, "and you've still got your balls".

Take Care

Contact me at to discuss.

William said...

You guys are awesome! Another one, submitted by @quarkspin via Twitter:

Underpromise and overdeliver. (I believe that Scotty lived by that rule. Made him look good to Captain Kirk!)

Mana said...

Don't give up what you want most for what you want now!

William said...

Some rules I've picked up along the way. I owe all three of these to Gerry Soffen (PI for the Viking missions, founder of the NASA Academy.

Do your homework--research the person you are meeting until you could essentially introduce them to a crowd from memory. This makes a huge impact.

Recognize the value of being the best-dressed guy/gal in the room. This superficial change will make it almost inevitable that people will have a favorable impression.

Whenever you get a business card, write down some quick facts about that person on the back--where you met them, what you talked about, et cetera. It turns a useless stack of business cards into an extremely valuable resource.

James Moore said...

My point goes hand in hand with the point @amoroso made earlier. I’ve always been a big fan of W. Edwards Deming ( ). Dr. Deming developed 14 points for managers that became one of the foundation pieces of the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement. Point number 8 simply says this: DRIVE OUT FEAR. Too many people either don’t have access to the information that they need or are afraid to ask questions about a process (out of fear of reprisal) that could possibly lead to improvement.

I think that information drives out fear. In many cases, people don’t have access to information that they need, are afraid to ask for access to information that could help them or worse yet, hoard information in an effort to gain or retain power/control. To me the last is unconscionable. ( )

Follow @amoroso’s advice. Please. Drive out fear!

spacenut said...

Impossible is nothing!
- Impossible is a challenge. Never let impossible stop you from anything.

Dream big, ask for help, never give up.
- Picked up from presentation done by Loretta Whitesides. Dreams should be impossible, never fear asking for help - very little will get done without it, and failure is part of training so don't let it stop you!

Eat, drink, and be merry.
- Not sure original source. I picked it up from Dave Matthews Band lyrics. I wear it on a bracelet on my wrist to remind me to have a good time - you only live once!

Jen said...

Live in accordance with the values you preach- i.e. if you are an advocate for safety, set an example for others whether on or off the job. Be consistent.

Before you send out a controversial or reactionary email, have someone who has your best interests in mind read it and make suggestions.

For women: dress modestly at work if you want to be taken seriously.

If your processes include elements that add no value, dump them. Don't do things just for the sake of doing them.

Follow the rules, but if a rule is stupid, investigate its legitimacy, and change it or get rid of it.

Don't blindly accept what people tell you, even if they are considered "experts." Do your own research and read, read, read.

David Masten said...

Failure is not an option, it comes standard. Success is available as an option; the dealer will not throw it in to make the sale.

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