Rules don’t work.

If we set the rule “Don’t hit your brother”, does that mean you can push him into a ditch? Or pull his hair? Probably not.

Our gut reaction when rules don’t work is to make them more descriptive. We change the rule to “Don’t harm your brother”. But then it still depends on how you define ‘harm’. It will never be perfect.

Whether you work in an organization or have a family, you already know this universal truth: Rules don’t work.

“Rules are meant to be broken.”

The existence of a rule makes people want to look for loopholes, for ways to bend the rule, and to beat the system. It’s in our nature.

The only way for a rule to work is if people understand and agree with the full intent behind the rule. At best, the value of the rule is that it can serve as a brief reminder of the original intent.

But even if fully understood, when we encounter a rule, we stop thinking. We either follow it blindly, or we fight it. Rules hide complexity.

We usually need far more than rules to achieve our goals. Rules are black or white while intents are full of gray areas and are much less defined.

Rules are therefore always a last resort. If all else fails, maybe a rule can prevent people from doing the thing you are hoping to prevent.

But if rules are indeed our last resort, let’s start thinking of creative ways around them. Whenever you are tempted to introduce a rule: Stop, take a step backward, and ask yourself: How can I prevent introducing this rule?

Usually, the thing you come up with takes more work, more faith, and more commitment to your intent than simply introducing the rule would require.

If you are not willing to invest that time and effort, then perhaps it’s time to be honest with yourself and question if you really want this.

Rules are the easy way out.

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