Dichotomy: Principles – Rules

23 Nov

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men”

– Douglas Bader

I was wise in my choice of parents, my mother and father complemented each other in a manner that allowed me to experience two different styles of living. My mother taught me: Always say “thank you.” I use it often and it has served me well. My father taught me, through his actions, to “always show respect for people.” This is a principle for living that I am still working on perfecting.

This is an example of the difference between a rule and a principle. A rule is basically an algorithm, a logical step-by-step set of procedures that if followed produces exactly the same set of results every time. Principles are heuristics, informal methods for solving problems or making decisions based on experience and often using iteration, a form of trial and error.

To be a manager you must understand this distinction.  Too many organizations are becoming rule-bound.  Rule-bound behavior stifles motivation and innovation.  Principles invite the exercise of good judgment and common sense.  For more on this go to: On principles and rules: heuristics and algorithms.

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