Electronic Design

Breaking Rules

Downsizing, reduced markets, layoffs, and drops in stock prices dominate today's news. Companies have a choice—they can either ride the curve down, or try to innovate and sell their way up.

Bad times call for good engineering and marketing. But there's a problem: rules. We have too many rules, too many restrictions, too many hard-to-work-around caveats. When creating killer products or beating out new marketing paths, it's not the time to follow rules. Instead, it's time to go out of the box, to do the unthinkable.

Too many companies are awash in restrictive rules. In good times, with new employees and business pouring in, rules help to streamline day-to-day business. Unfortunately in bad times, rules can be roadblocks to creative change. Restrictive rules become the sand in the gears, the monkey in the monkey wrench, the water in the oil.

Some rules are necessary, and we've all run into restrictive, dumb rules. But just what are rules? Why do we have them? Well, for starters, humans aren't exactly built for thinking. We're better at recognizing a tiger in the bush and jumping than at philosophizing. We're wired for action, not for thought.

We get around this by automating our actions. Initially, we slowly learn how to make coffee, to drive a stick shift, and so on. But over time, we automate these actions. Similarly, company rules simply are automated decisions. Unfortunately, these rules become fixed over time. And these rules, like government programs, seem to live forever.

Downturns present opportunity. It's time to get more competitive, to do what needs doing, to eliminate dead thinking. It's also time to weed out restrictive, counterproductive rules. Rules are just a useful convenience. If we let them run us, we'll become extinct. Evolution demands better.

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