Simple Maxims

Genius rests in simplicity, not complexity. 

In each moment, there are an infinite number of things to do. An infinite number of facts to know, books to read, or places to go. 

How should we decide what to do?

On Wednesday night, I saw Sam Zell speak. A very successful investor, he’s guided by a few simple maxims:

  1. Follow the demand.
  2. Good opportunities are easy to explain.
  3. Invest when there’s big upside, small downside. 

These rules let Zell succeed in spite of chaos and unpredictability.


Amazon is driven by simple and memorable rhetoric. Jeff Bezos has compressed his entire philosophy, packed with ideas, into two simple rules: 

  1. It’s always Day 1
  2. Be obsessed with the customer

As Tim Gallwey writes in the Inner Game of Tennis, most tennis players are plagued by judgment and too much technical instruction. But he suggests a better strategy: learn through awareness. 

Gallwey offers two simple tips:

  1. imagine your the desired outcome. What does it feel like? Look like? Sound like? 
  2. Don’t judge yourself.

That’s it. And it works like MAGIC!

Playing tennis is like catching a baseball. There’s a lot of science involved but the best players don’t think about it very much. 

This is what the mathematical formula for catching a baseball looks like. 

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But you don’t need to know math to catch a baseball. Instead, you can follow this simple 3-step process:

  1. Align a flying ball in the center of your gaze.
  2. Run.
  3. Adjust your run so the angle of the ball stays at the same spot in your gaze.

Ted Williams, one of baseball’s greatest hitters said: “The first step in baseball to getting a hit is to wait for a good pitch.”

He broke home plate down into individual squares and calculated his batting average for each one. Because of this, he knew his sweet spot. Williams simply waited for the right pitch. Then, he swung.


This works with health too. Instead of thinking about complex diets and workout programs, healthy people have simple rules. 

  1. Break a sweat everyday.
  2. Get enough sleep every night. 
  3. Eat food, mostly plants. Not too much.

Nassim Taleb says that if you hear advice from a grandmother or elders, odds are that it works ninety percent of the time.


Because Grandma has spent her life compressing rules down to their essence. Her rules stand the test of time. 

Tyler Cowen shared such simple advice when I interviewed him:

  1. Be as curious as possible.
  2. Good things come from compounding.
  3. Always ask better questions and obsess over that. 
  4. Talk about other people being wrong as little as possible.

Complexity makes us tense and anxious, which hurts performance. But simple rules allow for relaxed concentration, which improves performance. Simplicity makes us more focused and less stressed. 

Paradoxically, rules give us freedom. 

Good rules let us focus on what’s important. They reduce stress, guide action, and improve our thinking. This reduces internal chatter, so we can be present, aware, and free. 

The best rules are deceptively simple. So simple that even a child can understand them. There are definitely exceptions. But in general, there’s too much complexity and not enough simplicity.

So, then, why don’t people flock towards simplicity? 

Charlie Munger once said: “More investors don’t copy our model because our model is too simple. Most people believe you can’t be an expert if it’s too simple.” Simplicity sounds too easy — it doesn’t sound smart, technical or advanced. But simplicity works because it’s actionable, calming and easy to remember. 

I’ve found that the most successful people have simple rules that they take very, very seriously.  Simple maxims, repeatedly performed, make for a successful life.