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“Rules help control the fun”: An argument for limits at work



Improv is about spontaneity.


The astonishment that all this could be happened right here, right now. That out of thin air, funny, brilliant, ingenious stories are being born right here, in front of you. How the hell can they do it?


With rules.


When anyone starts learning improv, they start learning some basic principles. Yes-and, don’t block, listen hard etc; guidelines on how everyone in the scene will act. This removes the worry of what, in a larger sense, you should be doing. Leaving you to focus on what you are actually doing.


Spontaneity is helped by structure. It leaves people free to come up with brilliant moments, safe in the knowledge that they know the ‘rules’ of the game.


Let’s apply the same thinking to work.


The last 5 years have seen the rules blown wide open. Smartphones, laptops, conference calls.


Previously there were rules and limits. You could only do X when you were in Y. The rules were clear. They were constrained by the limits of technology.


The rules have been smashed to smithereens. You can work from anywhere, any minute of the day.


And businesses have been benefitting enormously; hours, days and years of free labour from people sending emails on their commute, updating presentations in cabs, sending text messages from their bed.


Because there are no limits. No rules. So everyone is trying to work out the rules, leading to more and more of a focus on looking busy, rather than just getting things done.


And we are now reaping what was sowed. After years of increased profits and lower wage bills through this free-for-all, we now have lower engagement and productivity.


People are knackered.


Let’s bring back the rules. Let’s ban work contact after 6pm. Let’s kill mobile email. Let’s set realistic timelines for pieces of work.


This isn’t an argument against flexible working. But flexible doesn’t mean ‘do it anywhere any time’. It means, well, flexible. There should still be rules.


If we want people to be their best selves, to be productive, creative, we need to help them. We need to set limits. To recognised dopamine addiction, debilitating stress and anxiety, chronic overwork, and how ways of working and cultures have devastated people.


Let’s bring back limits. Hurrah for the rules!


Let’s make it clear to people what’s expected. So they can do it really well.

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