Abstracting underlying principles from practices is essential when you are trying to learn from the way an organization works, for the purpose of helping other organizations, engaged in different activities in different contexts. Unless you can do it, you are reduced to just copying practices without understanding what problems they were intended to address.
Unfortunately, articulating a set of principles is hard because they must be (1) understood, (2) actionable, and (3) memorable. Here are a few meta-principles on how to achieve these goals:
- Banish words like “thoroughly,” “rigorous,” “towering,” “powerful”, or “fully.” If the meaning is in the eye of the beholder, it doesn’t belong in a statement of principle.
- Express principles as an action verb followed by a single object. “Develop,” “create,” “cancel,” or “hire” are all appropriate action verbs in a statement of principle. If you have multiple objects, you need a statement of principle for each.
- Keep the number of principles down to a maximum of five. Otherwise, they won’t be remembered. Most Jews can’t recite the 613 commandments in the Torah; most Christians, their 1o commandments; most Americans, their bill of rights. If you want principles to be remembered, make a shorter list.