2 Reasons Why We Have Rules – #1:Consistency

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My wife says I have multiple personalities.  In this one area, I might agree.

I am very “by the book”.  And yet, at the same time I could care less about the book.  At NASA, a civil servant was assigned to me to keep me out of trouble because I was stirring up the pot (it is actually part of my role, but that’s another story).  But at home, we have a number of rules we all (not only the kids) need to follow.

This dichotomy started me thinking about rules.  Why do we have rules?  And the rules I refer to can be in any form – laws, company policy, rules at home, etc.  After whittling it down, I came up with two reasons we have rules: Consistency and Trust.

There are some things we MUST have consistent.  Eating is one of them.  It is a principle that must be followed, or we die.  How, where, when and what we eat – that is another matter.  So in this regard, we are all “by the book” on eating for our nourishment, yet there are many books to follow to tailor it to our specific circumstances.

When creating a process at work, very often our main motivation is for consistency.  If it is a rudimentary function that doesn’t take a lot of brain power, it works well.  But if it even takes slight problem solving or judgement, strict processes start to fall apart.  All it takes sometimes is one variable to change and our perfect process goes from efficient to ineffective.  From there we have an internal struggle between what we SHOULD do and what process/policy says we OUGHT to do – between doing what is best or doing what the policy/procedure says.

We have all been there – which do we follow?  Our natural minds pull us toward adapting, yet the corporate side of us tells us to conform.

This video explains some more of these opposites.




Why do we make rules?  When I talk about rules I mean laws, company policies or procedures, sports rules, chore charts for our kids or anything like it. 

First, you have to have a goal.  Unless you have a goal there are no need for rules.  You can do whatever you want and get whatever result you get!  Just ask the Cheshire Cat.

But let’s assume we do have a goal – we make rules based off of two factors: trust and consistency.  This video, is about consistency.

(CONSISTENCY) Think of a button.  We design it to consistently perform a function and achieve the same result.  So, within the mechanics of a button we build the rules by which this button operates.  And it works like a charm – until it breaks.

The great thing about consistency is that it’s constant.  We can consistently rely on it.

But as we all know, the only constant… is change.

Change is the point where consistency should end, or at least be reevaluated.  But instead, our primal desire to keep the consistency grows stronger.

Imagine you have a process that works perfectly.  In time, however, one factor changes.  It could be a new person joins the team, a change in cost savings, new technology, new goal or the culture of your company changes slightly.

Suddenly, the process doesn’t work as well as it did before.  Instead of trying to accommodate the change, we try to force the same process because we know it works.

Now add up a number of changes like this over time, and what happens? All to quickly, the perfect process is getting in the way of actually doing the right thing.

And we have all seen bad processes.

Rules, processes and policy, by their very nature, are meant to be consistent in an ever changing world.  They are not meant to change.  Do you see the problem here?

Let me be clear here – Consistency is not a bad thing.  In fact it is often very needed.  When launching the Shuttle, NASA MUST be consistent in their checks to ensure safety.

The trick is to identify what can change, and what should not.  True principles don’t change.  How we put them in to practice, does.

For example, taking an occasional break from hard work is a good principle to follow.  How and where and when you take that break, that’s a practice that can change.
Mental exercise: Next time you follow a rule ask yourself if you’re following it because of consistency.  If you do that consistently, you will constantly find discrepancies.  And maybe you can become a constant source of positive change.

And unless you want to ruin your car’s engine, it’s a good idea to consistently checking the oil.

I unfortunately know that one from experience.