The Value of Rules
NCIS has been one of the most popular shows on television for years now. I generally don’t like TV crime dramas, but my wife has gotten me a bit into this one over time. The lead character is Leroy Jethro Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon. Gibbs has a number of rules. His team learns these rules as they go, usually after violating one of them unwittingly. Many of these would apply specifically to law enforcement. But some of my favorites that don’t include:
- Rule #1: Never screw over your partner. You shouldn’t need a rule for this, but it is probably better to be sure.
- Rule #3: Never believe what you’re told. Double check. This isn’t just about trust in law enforcement, but I believe also applies to problem solving and improvement. Dig deeper, and understand what is truly happening.
- Rule #15: Always work as a team. Enough said.
- Rule #45: Clean up your mess. Because, after all, who should be doing this for you.
- and of course, Rule #13: Never, ever involve lawyers. Because after all, don’t we have enough of that.
Rules have value. They provide guidance. They provide empowerment. They provide memory and learning.
Guidance and empowerment is provided because rules create a corridor of what’s OK and not OK. They help people make their decisions consistently with others, but without hamstringing them by following a narrow script. Rules should not be rigid; they should be guiding. Rules should not be unbreakable; they should bend consciously.
I think the most significant value of rules is that they provide memory through learning. If you engage in reflection, it’s intention is to learn from the past (or recent past) in order to improve your action in the future. I was recently reminding of this while considering an investment opportunity. Based on experience, I’ve developed some of my own rules. A few of these rules involve what makes a good investment. Without getting into specifics (to protect the innocent), this opportunity would violate one of my rules. I could still go ahead. No one could force me to follow my own rules. And I considered the possibility. However, this rule was based on my experience of what contributes to success and to failure. It is based on my experience and my learning. The rule allowed my the opportunity to draw upon those experiences more effectively. I decided to pass. That doesn’t mean it is the right decision, but it the process of how the rules helped me connect my decision making to my experience.
Do you have rules? How do you use them?