Rules and Rule Bending

One LinkedIn group that I enjoy is The Trader.  There are some interesting discussions there.  One that I have enjoyed follows an article I wrote about Rules.  How likely is it that an article can draw comments from a poet, an investment fund manager and a psychologist.  Each with a new take on the subject.  The people are friendly and supportive.  You might enjoy it too.

The rules discussion leads me to the discussion of icons as representative of a deep reality that we have summarized for convenience.   Those summaries can be traps.  They can keep us from reaching our potential.  They mislead.

As I have pointed out before, it is surprising how material appears when you suddenly have an interest in it.  One such is a Picasso idea.

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist

Picasso’s point would seem to be that the rule is a summary.  If you learn it like a pro, then you know the context within which it formed, the options available when it formed, the purpose of the choice, the ways it has changed since formulation and the methods of enforcement.  Only then do you know it “like a pro.”

Breaking it like an artist involves taking the rule at face value and assessing its underlying principles and discovering which of them are obsolete or ambiguous.  It is not always about art.

The late hockey coach, Roger Neilson, was famous for discovering anomalies in the rules.  Why does the goalie have to defend a penalty shot?  What if near the end of a game the team is two men short and I send out more players?  Too many men penalty, but they are delayed penalties.  Run out the clock without being functionally short-handed.

Both rules have since changed.

Lawyers are notorious for finding such anomalies.  One of my acquaintance, near death, began to study the bible.  “Looking for loopholes” was the explanation.  I will need to wait a while to discover if he found one.

Rules are not absolute and you will suffer if you treat them as if they are.  Rules are guidelines.  Sometimes they must be broken because the situation at hand is new or unforeseen. It is okay to cross the center line on a highway if there is a boulder in your lane and the other lane is empty.

No rule and no solution is always applicable.  When you know the fundamentals you can be more creative.  Perhaps not Picasso creative, but nonetheless better.

Mindless breaching of traditional rules may have adverse consequences, but so may mindless following of them.  Know the fundamentals, then you can behave as an artist.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

One Comment on “Rules and Rule Bending

  1. Perhaps the of term “icon” could be better defined as “default position.” Like many more intuitive computer programs, we come with some basic defaults built in–or learned early on. Respect for gravity could be one of them. But other defaults are more flexible–the way Google compensates for our changing search patterns. And as you suggest, it is only as we understand the nature of our defaults, that we can intelligently adjust to changing situations.

    The underlying question then becomes, how do we decide what situations need adjustment, and what situations need confrontation. This sends us even deeper, to examine our vision of the overall purpose and desired direction of our lives. Is this another level of randomly-determined defaults, or a series of well chosen values?

    When we look at our own level of values that drive all of our defaults, the term “wisdom” comes to mind. Our source of “wisdom” then becomes all-important. As the legendary sign in Dawson Creek, at the beginning of the Alaska Highway, is supposed to have said, “Choose your rut carefully, you’ll be in it for the next 50 miles.”

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