Friday, January 23, 2009

Why rules often suck

I was reading the recent issue of The Economist on the plane today, and I was struck by an article titled Law v Common Sense, subtitled Will Barack Obama protect Americans from his fellow lawyers? In it was the following choice text:
The relentless piling of law upon law—the federal register has 70,000 ever-changing pages—does not make for a more just society. When even the most trivial daily interactions are subject to detailed rules, individual judgment is stifled. When rule-makers seek to eliminate small risks, perverse consequences proliferate. Bureaucrats rip up climbing frames for fear that children may fall off and break a leg. So children stay indoors and get fat.

The point of the article is that Obama's likely appointment of Cass Sunstein to the White House could help address some of these issues, perhaps even leading to real (and needed) tort reform.

That got me thinking to business in general, and a recent study that we commissioned from The Economist showing that 70% of people need to work around their company's established processes in order to effectively get their work done (Actually, when I pose that question to a group of successful people, the actual answer is 100%).

Rules are good.  Unless they suck.  When I'm confronted with rules that suck (RTS), I'm often reminded of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, which discusses when it is our individual obligation to rise above the rules of society and embrace a higher truth (yes, the subtleties of this particular example are distracting).