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Appropriate Rules December 21, 2011

Posted by Jason in Management.
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I play a lot of games with my kids.  Every game, naturally, has its rules.  But each also has other, intangible goals.  Some teach strategy, some teamwork.  Quick thinking, observation, and word skills are also important.  Games teach us, even when it doesn’t feel like learning.

So when I play with them, I will often adjust the rules to fit their personalities and ages.  My 8 year old son will not have fun playing the same way that my older daughters will.  The important point is that we don’t just ignore the rules to make the game easier; we think about the goals of the game, and adjust the process to attain them in the manner most appropriate to the players on that particular day.

Some people are hard-wired to follow each and every rule the way that it is written.  Someone sat down and designed the game the way that it is, and that’s the way it will be played.  But remember that people can’t foresee every circumstance that the players will encounter.  Game designers also assume a certain level of general experience, but can’t be expected to know each individual’s abilities.

Or perhaps there is tradition to consider.  We rarely change the rules of chess, for example.  That’s a case where, like a language, if you want someone else to understand you, you have to agree on a common set of rules.

This adjustment of the rules extends to other parts of life as well (and indeed, along with learning strategy, is an important life skill that comes from games).  Anyone that works for a living knows there are countless rules that govern daily actions.  Policies, procedures, paperwork, informal networks, etiquette, and culture all set up constraints to the work we do.

The important point is that if you are all working toward the same goal, it is okay to adjust the rules to fit the players.  This particular form is onerous and not adding value?  Stop filling it out.  That department isn’t allowed to request supplies directly from the vendor (even though it is cheaper and more expedient)?  Make an exception.

Games (and work) are not necessarily about everyone playing by every single rule.  They are about having fun and reaching an end goal that everyone can agree on.  Leading an organization means knowing which rules are negotiable, to what degree, and to whom any changes should apply.  Following the rules for their own sake means not understanding the true goals in the first place.