Rules for Fools

Rules are important. Sports were a foundation for a large portion of my life. Sports must have rules. Without rules, games would be chaos, people would get seriously injured and there would be no criteria for competitive objective.

Sports have a lot of rules and consequences for breaking them. I still enjoy playing golf, a game with many rules and no referee. In that sense, a game of honor. A thick packet of often obscure rules that are expected to be known by all participants, and self-regulated. Breaking a rule leads to a penalty stroke or disqualification. Cheating leads to the golf-Gods inflicting you with a case of the “shanks” and 3 putting every green. Some may call that Karma.

In hockey, my lifelong sport of choice, players have blades on their feet and weapons in their hands. Rules are a good idea simply for the sustainability of the players and the game.

You get the point about sports and rules. Rules create the structure for the competitive game. Without rules – all are fools.

In the business arena, rules for fools are abundant.

Business is complex. Organizations need structure. As business/work affects most every person’s life, rules/laws for governance, employment, compliance, measuring are requirements for order, agreement, and civility. Controls are necessary.

Where rules have gone terribly wrong is when they are arbitrary, and applied to minutia. And oh, how business loves these tools for fools. Outside of the necessary structural foundations, we are bombarded by rules on every small topic, at every turn. They are perhaps interesting, yet rarely important. Rules are tools for control, not of the structural, compliance or operational nature of the business entity – they are predominantly for command and control over people.

They are the weapons of authority. The one-size-fits-all assimilation programs on thought and behavior. Rules are both ‘written and unwritten’ and the expectation is subjective, based on the whim of the enforcer. It is medieval legacy in pristine preservation.

Business rules are written into guidelines and policy, critical to legal, regulatory and operational compliance. These are critically important. These are also the smallest group of rules. They are necessary, uniform and understood, and applicable to all.

The vast majority of rules are arbitrary and focused on human behavior. Rules of engagement. They are expectations, not guidance or governance. They aren’t tied to performance or achievement – that would be covered in goals and objectives. This bastion on behavioral controls is set on preference rather than need. They are applied subjectively, not uniformly, and do not apply to all.

These are the rules for fools we read, hear, experience every day. They are often fluid and misunderstood.

We all know that trust is important in business. So important that we must establish rules. “Now that we’ve returned from the junket to the ropes course, and artificially “established” trust, let’s get the rules straight. You will never be late for a meeting (I don’t care that you spilled scalding coffee that’s burning a hole in your lap…rules are rules – back to the ropes for you.” Covey has rules for trust, Lencioni has rules for trust, HR has rules, society has rules, gangs have rules, religions, testing facilities (aka Colleges/Universities), tea parties, lunchrooms, coffee stations – it’s unending. It’s all about behavior control. Expectations. Capitulation and assimilation. It is enforced by “I told you so” and the mood of authority. It all flies in the face of the “golden rule;” treat others as you would like to be treated.

Instead, we experience, “treat others as you’re told,” or “treat others as you have the authority to do so.”

And now the rule of rules, the fool for all fools.

We’ve become so numb, so accustomed to being told the rules that we have become ‘Pavlovian’ in our information sharing and interaction and teaching. We just nod and comply. We have to list and number everything, express everything as a rule or law:

  • Tell me your 3 takeaways
  • These are the 7 rules for creating rules
  • The 10 laws of more sales
  • 8 Rules for psychological safety (fear of enforcement negates them all)
  • 4 Rules for feedback (none of which involves actual conversation)
  • On and on, every other book, article, and post
  • The HBR and Forbes rules for contributing to the rules, rules

Everything we wish to control in another, we create a list of rules. None of which can be uniformly applied, none that are inclusive and free of bias. All are subjective opinion and preference, rarely true and limiting rather than enhancing our human capacity, capability, and growth.

The first “rule” of holes: When you find yourself in one, stop digging.” Here we are, shovel in hand, frenetically tunneling to nowhere.

What we stop doing is more important than what we do next.

We can do better.


Mike Vacanti
Mike Vacanti
Mike believes, “It’s more than what we accomplish – it’s who we become along the journey!” His mission is to Lift Others, helping people discover their potential, embrace a growth mindset and achieve at inspired levels. Mike has transformed businesses and inspired people to perform at levels they didn’t think possible. Mike's known as a great listener and collaborative, creative problem solver. For generating speed and confidence through innovation and transformation. His current endeavors as advisor, consultant, and keynote speaker, are shifting the belief in what is possible and opening hearts to a better vision and future of business around the globe. Sharing his extensive career of invention, reinvention and highly complex business combinations, he consistently delivers on the belief that the heart of any organization is People – People drive results. Mike has released his new book, BELIEVERSHIP: The Superpower Beyond Leadership, and is the Founder of HumansFirst, a global community of positive change catalysts. Following many years in advertising and marketing, He launched early-stage start-ups & led M&A initiatives for publicly traded tech companies. Five-times he was thrust into the chaos of transformation and helped people navigate the doubt, fear, and chaos of significant change. His teams exceeded expectations, consistently beat the challenge, learned a lot and had some fun.

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  1. Mike, welcome to the group. Indeed there are plethora of rules for sports and business. We are told to follow the rules which we do (some or most of us do) but there are times when there are far too many rules with rules for the rules or the rules for exceptions to the rules. I agree with you in that sometimes we become numb to it all. At some point just like in sports, rules can be changed. Thank you, Mike, for sharing your article. I hope your experience is as incredible as mine was.

  2. Love your perspective, Mike! I’ve seen that default need to control first hand. Often, I saw how a ‘carrot’ could work like magic…so much better than a ‘stick’, yet rules won – rules about what we should be creating, how we should be creating it, who we should and shouldn’t be creating it with, who and how we should serve our stuff up. I could feel the possibilities become more and more constrained as the layers of rules thickened.

  3. Welcome to the BC360 family of writers, Mike! It is great to have you here. Thanks for sharing this piece with us. Rules indeed seem to be everywhere. It is prudent to have them. Guidelines are often necessary for many facets of our lives – personally and professionally. But restrictions can also cause complacency and, if one feels stifled by rules, it may hamper creativity. I suppose that’s why there is always an associated risk. The question is, depending on circumstance, will you take it? Great insight in this piece, Mike. Much to digest and ponder.

  4. Mike, Jeff ikler here. Welcome to BC360! You will be a great addition to what is already an amazing group of thinkers and writers.

    Here’s the sentence that really landed for me: “It all flies in the face of the “golden rule;” treat others as you would like to be treated.” True! But what I see is that maxim has either been never learned or forgotten or simply ignored by so many – even institutions that preach it! – hence, one reason for “rules.”

  5. Mike – Welcome to BC360 and the family of authors and readers who offer strong encouragement and respectful engagement. Here, you will find people who will become your ardent followers and friends. Good start with your first article.

  6. Your first article is so good Mike! You described so eloquently the Win-Lose ineffective paradigm! I loved it!

    Yes those folks are probably adored by self-centered “bosses” (yeah I’m intentional in choosing this label instead of leaders which needs to be deserved) since the authoritarian people are in general very charismatic and manipulative.

    They’re not only able of reducing the costs since they’re treating people like things and making them believe they could lose their job whenever they try to speak for their basic needs, but also making the “best Win-Lose deals” with customers! They’re also excellent generally speaking in terms of technical talents!

    This is probably better than people scripted in a Lose-Win paradigm since those ones have no standards at all; only chaos! Still, we need to understand that both are coming from a place of scarcity and will never reach effectiveness in any case; since this one only exists in a win-win culture!

    The problem with those ego-driven businessmen is that they have no principled vision! They’re still not understanding that their employees need to be treated as a whole introduced by Covey as below:

    “Use me creatively (mind), pay me fairly (body), treat me kindly (heart) in serving the world in a principled way (spirit).”

    They still don’t get that when they are treated like a thing, there is no reason to be committed; there is nothing which would prevent them from volunteering their hearts & minds dor the employer who would pay more!

  7. No doubt that sport is a gym of life. Among other things, in sport, some values ​​are kept much more alive than in civil society!
    The rules are nothing more than the roots of the tree of our coexistence. Only if the roots are healthy and strong, then our communities can thrive, and we can thrive with them. The rules are the building blocks of institutions and the latter are the tools we use to organize and coordinate social behaviors so that they can contribute to collective well-being in the most effective way. It is the institutions that establish how to divide the tasks into complex organizations, to govern and align a myriad of individual plans in a concerted and effective joint action. States, markets, traditions, legal and moral codes, but also marriage, friendship, good manners, are all institutions, i.e. sets of rules, which contribute to (co) order our lives and facilitate joint action, sometimes only two people, sometimes millions and millions. Here we often ask ourselves why for some reason these rules are respected and when and for what reason not; what makes some rules “effective” and others “not effective”.
    Moral institutions and behaviors evolve jointly and, while it is true that good institutions are based on a broad fabric of civil virtues, it is equally true that the institutions themselves, when functioning in a just and efficient way, contribute to the strengthening and diffusion of these virtues . Similarly, inefficiencies and public injustices are the result, but also the cause, of small and large opportunisms and tend to generate injustices.
    In any case, the individual’s sense of responsibility and ethics make the difference.