09/07/2013 09:47 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 06:12 BST

Don't Follow the Idiots - Break the Rules


A few weeks ago I tried to walk across a car park in Las Vegas; it was the fastest way to get where I wanted to go.

I was shouted at with increasing agitation by a security guard: "Sir! Sir! I need you to come back here, go back through the hotel and out the side entrance." He didn't sound like someone who could be reasoned with, so I ignored him.

He ran after me telling me how unsafe it was to walk across the car park - in broad daylight in a 20mph zone with no traffic. I explained that I had learned to cross the road aged five and I would be fine. He shook his head sadly as I flirted with my doom.

Now, I understand that he had his instructions, and that they probably came from an insurance company requirement. But where do these stupid rules come from? They probably come from the one person in history who managed to get run over in these circumstances, and the chances are that person was also an idiot!

It happens in business. One idiot does something so stupid that nobody had considered it before - they microwaved their poodle or complained that their coffee was hot and they had not known (both real examples). As a result all of us 'non-idiots' have to endure being warned not to do this patently stupid thing.

In business, our company rule and process manuals become a fossil record of the biggest idiots we ever hired - people who did things that 99.9% of us would never consider doing. So now we all need to read, sign and copy a set of guidelines that assume we are idiots too.

I certainly don't plan to live my life according to systems set up to ensure idiots can't possibly do something stupid, and I don't want to run my business that way either. If I have someone who does something stupid I will ring them and tell them they were stupid, not ask everyone else, who never would have done whatever it was, not to be stupid too.

If rules appear to me to be unnecessary, I usually ask "why?" Many people are surprised - as if I should instantly comply with any rule set by a coffee shop, car park attendant or government office. I was asked not to sit down in a completely empty driving test office recently as "The seats are reserved for people taking the test". There was nobody there! I offered to move if there was a rush but was told this was "against policy". Presumably some idiot in the past had stayed sitting down and refused to move for someone trying to take their test.

When people answer my question with "It's policy". This is code for "I don't know". If I ask "Why?", I almost never get a coherent answer. "It's a rule".

So my recommendation is that (unless you are one of the idiots), you don't automatically choose to comply with rules. In business, and in life in general, if people can't explain why something is necessary then resist - otherwise you will forever be constrained by the acts of the most stupid people who ever passed this way before you.

In business, we should be constantly and automatically pushing back at unnecessary controls, approvals and permissions so that we keep ourselves lean, empowered and effective. Otherwise our organizations become slow, frustrating and bureaucratic.

If you operate rules and you don't know why, go find out! If you can't find out "why" then maybe you should stop?. If you do know why, then ask yourself: "Do I need a rule for everyone or can I deal with the occasional idiot by exception?"