Rules, Rules, Rules

There’s an activity I do at the start of each Tour on Talent ( where participants go around the room looking for others who meet the description in one of the items on their sheet. There are only two rules in this activity. The first is that you can not sign your own sheet and the second is that no one can sign your sheet more than once.

The amazing thing is that each time I do this, people add rules. They say others are cheating if they look to see who “Went to Band Camp” so that they can have that person sign their form. They rarely approach me because they think there is some rule against having the facilitator sign their form.

In our debrief, we discuss the concept of phantom rules. These are rules people make up that aren’t really rules. This type of thinking permeates all we do. The common analogy is that we put ourselves in a box as pointed out by Mike Vance and Dianne Deacon in their book, “Think Outside of the Box”. The challenge is to recognize which rules are real and which rules are phantom ones. Getting rid of our phantom rules frees us from their constraints and promotes innovative thinking and creative solutions. This is the essence of brainstorming and why it is so effective. In brainstorming, you don’t stop to analyze whether or not an idea is good or bad or fits within the current thinking. You just get the ideas out and leave the analysis to later. A key question I ask when people say, “we can’t do that” is, “Is there a rule against it?”. Most of the time there is not.

Think of the phantom rules constraining your performance and take steps to free yourself. It will pay dividends in terms of your creativity and accomplishments.


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