Creativity versus Rules

As I was preparing to leave a former position I spent most of my time writing instruction booklets.  I knew that the new incumbent might be newly promoted or new to the business of education.  This person might need a few guidelines.

I have never regarded these instructions as rules.  At best they are helpful tools that show how I solved a problem within the real rules:  Education Code, GASB, federal regulations and so on.  I hope my successors will come up with even better solutions.

Throughout my career I have heard about this tension between creativity/customer service on the one hand and productivity/rules on the other.

The first bank I worked at had a suite of operations manuals.  The next bank I worked at expressly forbade them.  The second bank seemed to be operating under the belief that rules and creativity were at opposite ends of a single spectrum.

creativity vs rulesI find this dichotomy false.  In an earlier post I talk about the need to know the rules before breaking them, and about creating within constraints.

Then I found this great post from Jeff Goins:  Rules, Discipline, and the Paradox of Creativity.  Even though he is talking about art, his points (below) apply equally to business.

  1. Discipline is your ally
  2. Following the rules is not the same as discipline
  3. Rules aren’t necessarily bad
  4. There comes a point when the rules must be broken

The thing is, the rules are pretty much fixed (GASB, GAAP, Education Code).  Creating within those rules takes true talent.

rule matrix

Eventually, the truly creative among us will transform those rules through new legislation or evolving professional practices.

There is so much talk of thinking outside the box.  No-one ever seems to talk about transforming the box.  Am I really arguing in favor of boxes?

In many a child custody case the deciding factor is who is going to provide stability and structure.  The “Auntie Mame” parent, who lives life in the upper left quadrant, can end up losing custody.  Something to consider the next time you hear about plans to “blow up the boxes“.

One comment on “Creativity versus Rules

  1. KBT
    September 30, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Love this post!

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