No Rules is the Best Rule

“Rules were made to be broken.”

“There are no rules.”

“Just follow the rules”

Why are rules, quotes about rules, punishments for broken rules everywhere?

When my daughter asks me what the rules are, she’s probably not asking what they are so that she can follow them. She’s asking so she knows how to get around them. What are the boundaries that I can operate in and what loopholes are there?

Rules help us to define certain boundaries and the operating procedure of how we interact and behave with each other, but rules aren’t actually the main thing.

In addition to explicit rules, there are unspoken rules, which sometimes eventually become explicit, spoken rules. Some examples include:

“Don’t steal.”

”Meet your deadlines.”

“Test your code.”

“Don’t tie your brother’s leg to the dog’s leg.” (A great example of an unspoken rule that recently became an explicit rule in our house)

Some rules are soft and some are hard. But they usually have one thing in common – they support and maintain relationships between people. Rules are contracts for how we can respect and serve others.

You may think that you need to create more rules to improve the culture, but often you don’t. You’re doing a disservice to people when rules are used as a replacement for genuine relationships.

While you can always focus on more rules, more punishments, more restrictions, it can never replace the heart of what we all want when we create and enforce rules – trust, honor, and respect.

similar cubes with rules inscription on windowsill in building
Photo by Joshua Miranda on

When should you use rules?

Use formal rules to improve the how as opposed to the why.

When you try and improve the culture of an organization, and you’re looking to add more rules – stop and ask if the rules are actually necessary. They might be, but often you can get a better and more lasting result by stopping, listening, and simply improving the relationship with others. In doing this, we can avoid some (many) explicit rules altogether.