Sunday Morning Coffee: Stop Following the Rules

November 11, 2012

One thing that continues to baffle me is how well Americans follow the rules (in public).

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Certainly, order does trump chaos, so rules are important, but the extent to which rules are followed varies throughout the world.  In developing countries, rules often tend to be treated as more like guidelines, and if corruption is going on, the rules are just completely ignored.

So, why do we follow rules in the first place? Rules do a few things: first, they help to establish accepted norms of interaction.   Secondly, rules ensure the communal good (safety, fairness, and so on).  For instance, when two cars pull up at a stop sign intersection, the rules of right-of-way make it easy to decide who should go first.  It also gives both drivers the peace of mind that if they follow the right-of-way rule, then they can proceed through the intersection safely.

So far, rules seem great –they help us communicate and they create a net benefit.  So why are so many rules ignored?

The trouble with rules stems from an economic concept called the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”.  Essentially, if everyone follows the rules, then the person that breaks them stands to benefit (e.g. the person who cheats on a test), whereas if everyone breaks the rule, then everyone ends up worse off (e.g. the teacher realizes everyone cheated and punishes everyone).

In America, we have done an excellent job at creating a rule-fearing society.  For the most part, people just follow the rules without question.  In fact, often rules are self-enforcing because Americans call eachother out when they break the rules.  This is part of our culture, but it is also part of being a developed country (people are more likely to trust the rule-enforcers).

Why you should break the rules

Rules are excellent when it comes to driving, sports and the law.  The problem is that too often, we keep following the rules in areas we shouldn’t.

Rules are meant to be broken:

-          When you are designing something that has never been designed before

-          When you are creating a business strategy that isn’t the same old norm

-          When you are building the next big thing.

Rules should not define your creativity.  When it comes to free thinking and new solutions…break the rules!

~ Bryan

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