Boxes, In and Out

Cat in box

Conflicted Cat in Box

When the old boss first arrived she reviewed a particular process and said, “Just tell me one thing.  Tell me the reason you aren’t following the accounting manual.”   She elaborated that it is OK to break the rules if you have a well-reasoned argument. It is not OK if you don’t even know what the rule is.  There is an old saying.  You have to know the rules to break the rules.

This is not so different from improvising in music.

To excel at and personalize a skill, you first have to learn the rudimentary elements of that skill. You can’t reasonably expect to create innovative improvised solos, without spending hours listening to records, learning solos, working out chord progressions, learning melodies and building your instrumental technique.

All of these aspects of playing are the “rules,” not just the right and wrong notes according to music theory. Every music has its own tradition and rules, but at the root of any music is the basic fact of a human interacting with sound.

Then the old boss retired a new sheriff came into town.

There is some recent thinking that great benefit is derived from maximum disruption. Thinking outside the box and all that. A lack of experience in district office operations appears to be the gold standard. A requirement to have no professional training in our area of expertise must be a close second. There seems to be an assumption that longevity equals self-serving silos and a lack of creativity.  I admit that I find this disrespectful.  I came to education with an MBA and private industry experience; I learned the ropes before progressing to management.  And I don’t have a vested interest in the status quo any more than this Young Turk does.

People brought in as disruptors do well only with extraordinary effort as they come to quickly understand that improvising without knowing the basics will almost certainly lead to poor results.  We admire our Young Turk’s effort and we graciously keep him out of trouble as he leans heavily on our skills. All the while, we are operating without guidance and support.  We are devoted to the cause, so we only complain in whispered tones to close confidants when it all becomes too much. Can they really view the “old guard” as lacking the ability to think both creatively and rationally? Do years of experience really mean that ipso facto an employee is irrevocably trapped within the box?

True creativity is doing something great within tightly prescribed rules (e.g. GAAP, Education Code). It is like writing a great poem within the limits of the haiku form.


soup of self-pity
stir-fried melancholy
glass of ‘suck it up’

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