The Killer Rule
Rules cannot cover all eventualities
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), understood very well that a manual full of rules can start to lead its own life and that the rules cannot cover all eventualities. Having been pressed by others for a long time he eventually wrote the Constitutions, but stated in the introduction that the rules would never have absolute value; man always comes first. In a situation where the better, more humane solution appears to be contrary to the Constitutions, the more humane solution must always be chosen. In my opinion this is how all rule books should start: ‘Here are the rules of the game, but at all times keep in mind what it is really about and that this may mean you act against the rules and rightly so’. There is no game without rules, nor is there a game without healthy interpretation of the rules.
When I discussed this with a leader of a big organisation undergoing serious change, he liked it a lot and has added exactly this rule to the new set of rules they had just defined.
“If a situation warrants an action which you deem necessary, but goes against the rules we have defined: Go ahead and act, but do inform us afterwards.”
Isn’t that great? Looks like you have the best of both worlds. Of course, it might not turn out beneficially, but following the rules doesn’t offer any guarantees either. The important thing is that as a group, you’ll be more flexible to adapt to (unforeseen) circumstances and to learn and improve when discussing why you deviated from the rules.
Adapting and improving, that’s what it is about if you wish to survive and thrive as an individual, species or organisation.
How can we ensure that the different individuals with different competencies and insights collaborate towards a shared objective that would not be reached alone and adapt continuously to changing environments? This views the organisation as a living organism. That’s definitely closer to the truth than the old machine metaphor where all the cogs have to be synchronised. I believe it is a living organism, just different to what we are used to.
Let’s discuss that in the next blog.