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.