The Principles are Useless On Their Own

What happens if cases are more important than principles in your domain? Some non-obvious implications.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

An personal example of mild OKR success:
We use OKRs at my gym. The default in the fitness industry is to not pay attention to any numbers really and have no way of aligning people on goals. This results in people just randomly trying whatever marketing or community-building idea pops into their head.

By having some clarity on priorities and associating metrics with them, we are able to maintain focus.


As a uni student, I had a side gig as an in-house tech support for a few years. The system our team supported was a (then already quite dated) Lotus Notes system, which had very lousy to no public documentation. Usually, companies bought expensive certification courses for their Notes support staff, but where I worked, those were out of reach. And we didn’t have any “grey-haired” Lotus Notes veterans on our team to mentor us either, since the usual tenure in that team was two years and all of us uni students.

Without any formal training on the system, I quickly realized that the only reason I could troubleshoot our users’ broken Notes clients better than they could themselves was because I saw so many of those broken clients every day. While each of them was broken in a unique way, eventually, there were only so many permutations of how a Windows machine with a Lotus Notes installation could possibly break. Being in the middle of a very principles-driven Computer Science degree back then, I just marvelled at how I could become a local expert at a technical skill without any formal or even informal training whatsoever. Reading your piece on CFT made that experience finally click for me.

Speaking of learning from cases, you mentioned software system design. What is your take on coding katas? I once did a few “Software Architecture Katas” at a tech workshop, and thought they might help with learning from different cases. At least that is their intention.


@ellen I loved that story. I don’t actually have any experience with code katas — I think I’ve done a grand total of two in my life, and so those don’t count. Have you had good experiences with them?

@toddknife — thank you. So that’s one case / proof that OKRs can work, and perhaps work without problems, in a small business context.

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Yes, I have had good experiences with code katas. But come to think of it, more as a playground for experimenting quickly with different coding languages, techniques etc. than necessarily as a way to build up a mental case library. I guess code katas aren’t complex enough compared to real situations for that.

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It has always struck me as weird that it was necessary to sit with these books for such an extended period of time

The book this article made me think of is The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. A few years ago when this came out, I made the mistake of trying to read it over a vacation weekend. I did not make great progress, because the book felt so heavy. I just mentally couldn’t keep up with it. I now realize that I would probably need to take your approach, of a chapter every month to 2 months in order to make it digestible.

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