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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.




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