Skip to main content

The flipping point of rules

It seems that beyond a threshold, rules flip their meaning. Instead of limiting everyone's possible paths, they become a limit on who is allowed to break them. This flip depends on the level of hierarchy in a group, the amount of direct communication between people, and the scale of cooperation involved.

In extreme cases, clout is purely a function of rule breaking (think mafia).

Call it 'unfair advantage', 'the inmates are ruling the asylum' or anything else, but it is real. It is not going away. And as idealists, we will fail if we wish it away.

Rule breaking is a necessity in art and individual mastery, and inevitable to excellence. Without the Icarus in us, the Daedalus won't be remembered for long. Karna-the-plodder was greater than Arjuna-the-ordained.

We see the flip when rule-breaking is applied for power or position or individual advantage. It debilitates exceedingly good work when this happens.

We have all seen it. We all know it when we see it. Yet we somehow cannot put our life down to solve it.

There is a big reason for this - rule-breaking is a dual-use technology. It is the route for the exceedingly bad, and the exceedingly good.

When people with power are exempted the constraints of rules, we have cathedrals ossifying to self-serve. This is when rules make us a victim of the past.  Great genius talent can be wasted this way.

When people willing to act are given authority to move beyond the current rules, explore, fall down and get back up, we have possibilities for progress. This is when rules become an architect of our future destiny. Even little talent can end up making greatness this way.

Dual-use is the opposite of easy-to-wield. If rules are not actively managed and extended to serve everyone in the community, they become a necessary addiction and a painful habit.

How does one break this cycle?

By cultivating a healthy dose of skepticism about one's own motives. No matter what we say as individuals, groups or leaders, we need to cultivate a tolerance for errors within ourselves that is not hypocritical. We need a tolerance for some loss in our own rank order, or our own measure of expertise. At some point the top is a cliff-drop. At some point expertise is a deep tunnel with one exit at the other end: beginner.

Experts have titles. Beginners get work started. We need a Janus-like attitude of being experts where we do things well, and being a beginner when we need to operate under uncertainty.

As leaders want to soft-pedal their own failures, business suffers. Where leaders see failures as behavioral rather than personal, we move the rules to make them work for us.

When rules align with actions, the words are immaterial.

When action is asleep on the wheel, rules are mere words.

True for communities, true for individuals, true for you, true for me.


Popular posts from this blog

Why PI is not 4, math is great, and other mysteries.

The other day, I found myself with an interesting problem of approximating a circle with the enclosing square which seems to prove pi = 4.

The paradox was forwarded by a most interesting puzzle collector, Surajit Basu, a friend and life long inspiration. See Sonata for Unaccompanied Tortoise for why!

Here is the offending paradox:

This is an example of how counterintuitive questions can be answered with a little calculus.

The key is to realize that no matter how closely we approximate the circle, the orthogonal lines of the approximation formed by inverting the square corners will never actually be tangential to the circle.

Note carefully that as you get closer to 90 degrees, the horizontal line is much longer than the vertical. Same goes with the approximation at 0 and 180 - the vertical line is much larger than the horizontal component.

If we take a quadrant of the circle - let's say the top left quadrant, moving counter clockwise from top to left -  we can imagine that each inf…

Ambition vs. Fear.

Most important things in life don't come to us. Nor do we get them by seeking/wanting them. It comes from letting go of the unimportant stuff.

The hardest part is letting go of the tendency to take the world as is. This is a habit of our past successes.

But success is not a destination, it is a STOP sign. You stop, wait, and move on. Too often, we are paralyzed by success into the fear of the new. We stall on the road to a new life. We need to break our inertia and move.

Our thoughts and thought habits are hard to break. But that is where we have to spend the most energy. Thoughts are always competing strands  - of worries of the past and anxieties for the future. For some of us, they are cleanly separated into rivers that nurture every place they travel. For most, they are like the torrents and trickles -- competing, rushing somewhere, stopping completely elsewhere, always mixing, morphing, competing, winning, losing.

Our thoughts are the potential difference between the two pole…

Architecture, Engineering, Operations - iteration 1

The world has infinitely more stuff to be "done" nowadays. At least in the sense of building/running an institution that uses technology, there are many roles that are involved in making things work. The world of IT and technology in general makes the speed and variety possible. We now have a platform of IT that is globally scale-able if we can put some new thinking to the old problems of "getting things done".

There are great organizations that do this well, and they use "modern" IT principles to achieve this.

Fundamental to engineering a modern IT (or infrastructure organization) are the three roles of Architecture, Engineering and Operations. Some would say Architecture is encoded Engineering-history, but for now, we will keep them separate.

The popular definitions for these roles are about "output" delivered or the "domain" of discourse. The personality drives that determine the actual performance are not discussed, as far as I ca…