Create the rules that will set you free

Can rules set us free?

If we think in linear terms that’s sounds absurd. Rules are restrictions, boundaries and limitations, how can they ever increase freedom or present us with new opportunities?

But, if we embrace the nonlinear thinking of complex, interdependent and adaptive systems, then rules will start supporting our creativity, innovation and transformation.

We’re all trying to cope with growing uncertainty, both around us and even within our most trusted systems. Be it the workplace, the nation and even the family. Are the rules breaking up? I don’t think so, but our experiences – which are based on these sets of rules are changing.

What we should be looking for is the emerging experience produced by local interactions that are governed by the rules that we set for ourselves.

We should look at ‘gaming’ theory to understand this better. When playing a game we set up the basic rules which give us the boundaries, or the playground within which constant interactions between the players happen. These interactions, or dynamics, in turn, allow for the game to progress and develop and this creates our emotional experience of the game either as players or as fans. This distinction of the levels of games is taken from the MDA model (mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics) of games research.

The emotional experience of a game can work even if the rules are totally made up and fantastic. For example, J.K. Rowling invented an imaginary wizards game in her “Harry Potter” books series. The game of Quidditch induced such an experience on readers that the game had leaped out of the fantasy books to become a real life experience. 2015’s world cup of Quidditch (the 8th in number) was hosting 80 teams. Using brooms in the game may be the only remain from it’s fantastic creation.

In another successful classic book, “Alice in Wonderland”, Lewis Carroll also invents a game with a random set of rules – the Caucus race, in which everyone runs around in circles and suddenly stop. What kind of experience might emerge from such a game? Surely a disorienting one.

Forward, backward, inward, outward
Come and join the chase!
Nothing could be drier
Than a jolly caucus-race

Backward, forward, outward, inward
Bottom to the top
Never a beginning
There can never be a stop

alice in wonderland
A Jolly Caucus Race

To skipping, hopping, tripping
Fancy free and gay
I started it tomorrow but will finish yesterday

Round and round and round we go
Until for evermore
Once we were behind
But now we find we are

Forward, backward, inward, outward
Come and join the chase!
Nothing could be drier than a jolly caucus-race

And it ended when – “the Dodo suddenly called out “The race is over!” and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, “But who has won?””.

Does it matter? Is this the right question to ask?

If we aspire to get to a fixed goal by following a set plan within a complex system, we may be in for some surprises. But if we try to only set few rules which will allow a dynamic to emerge and an experience to formulate then we can end up with much more then we expected.

I urge you to try this out, decide on just one simple rule, one which will guide you in a specific interaction (with yourself, your colleagues, your family or anyone else). Then, for the next 10 days, document and reflect on how following this rule influenced the dynamics between you and others and what kind of experience it had allowed to emerge.

Do share it too!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, then please comment, share or feedback. Here you can also get much more ideas and thought-provoking insights on how to apply complexity to enhance your own effectiveness and achievements.


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