Friday, April 20, 2012

One must first know the rules to break them

One thing people tend to forget is the basics. Knowing the rules of the game and where the safety nets are is essential if you want to venture further and excel. Just picture a football player (or soccer player, depending where you are from) that doesn’t know the rules of the game. Do you think he has a chance of becoming a legend (or even a good player) anytime before he learns the rules of the game?
No way, you have to through all the steps without skipping any. That's how we learn and gain experience, repeatedly doing the same basic stuff again and again. But afterwards, you can (and in fact should) occasionally break the rules of the game. Why? Simple, keep on reading to find out. Or instead, start first with "Is there a need to follow plans?" as this article is somehow a follow up on that...

Support for knowing the rules

The credit of this article's title goes to William Stunck, Jr, it's feature on the Preface of his "The Elements of Style". So you see this is nothing really new, as the book was published in 1918... Also, it's plain to see in certain fields that this is a fact of life: one must first know the rules to break them. You can't have a painter who doesn't know how to paint or a composer who doesn't know how to play a tune. The same goes to Project Management: it's impossible for someone to successfully and consistently manage projects without knowing at least the basics about it. With some luck on your side you can do it well by chance for a while, but not consistently.

But on the other hand... have to break the rules to venture further. As Stunck writes on "The Elements of Style":
The best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric.
This one was actually a featured quote here. In writing, as in arts in general, this is easy to see as it requires creativity. And creativity implies some kind of disruption which in turn implies some rule breaking. Examples are easy to find, just think about any of the painters that are now history like Picaso or Dali. And even if not in a fair and ethical way, this works just the same. Maradona gave a World Cup to Argentina this way on what was known ever since as "God's hand" when he scored a goal using his hand...

And the same goes to Project Management

In Project Management there are ethics that should prevent any project managers of such attitudes like Maradona's God's hand. But the point is made any way.
And it happens in Project Management, sometimes negotiating, planning or whatever, that you get success by ignoring the best practices and go some other way. One rule I've broken occasionally is not writing down things at all. And I bet you've heard before that "if it wasn't written it wasn't said", right?
But suppose you have someone in your project, maybe even a supplier, that cannot assume some commitment because of his boss or some internal policy of his company. And suppose that he has a particular interest in your project, maybe it can boost his own career. If you've worked with this person before and trust him enough, why not assume his commitment even though you can't write it down? Of course you can get yourself burned in the process, but the couple of times it happened to be it would have gotten me burned anyway even if the commitment was written and public. One the plus site it has gotten me off the hook all the other times.

So the lesson is...

Make sure you know the basics. Not only know, you should master the basics. That will allow in the future to see when breaking them will be in your own benefit. Just be sure to, unlike Maradona, be ethical about it.

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1 comment:

Johnny said...

Loved the article.
Here's to being good (and brave) enough to break the rules!!