“the rules”

Nancy and I were chatting with Phil Long over the weekend about some of the barriers to innovation that we run into at our university. We concluded that some of the biggest ones come from slavish adherence to the Handbook of University Policies & Procedures (the HUPP).

I’m not saying that organisations shouldn’t have rules. I guess. But if your organisation is in a turbulent environment that requires change, and the rules are getting in the way of innovation, choosing to follow the rules rather than to innovate is a very poor choice. Nancy makes a really good point about this – she always asks ‘who makes the rules?’

‘The Rules’ aren’t some naturally occurring thing that we uncover through scientific discovery. They are made by people, usually with the goal of making an organisation run better. Both parts of that construction are important. They’re made by people, so they can be changed by people – by us! And they’re designed to make the organisation run better – so if they impede progress, they must be changed.

Obviously there are significant issues of power and control wrapped up in changing the rules. But usually the people that can change the rules are the same people that say things like ‘Innovation is one of the core values of our organisation.’ Often, you can make great progress by pointing out the contradictions between the objectives of your group and the rules by which you’re supposed to be operating. The only other choice is to go out and discover a different set of rules…

(photo from flickr/Paul Grand under a creative commons license)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.