The Nature of Rules: Conformity, compliance and innovation often do not get along

The project I am currently working on, The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business is really an idea I’ve been exploring my entire life. It’s on my mind because I’ve spent the last week enjoying all the various Star Wars mythologies that are spawning out of Disney, the new Mandalorian tv series, the video game Jedi: Fallen Order, the new book Resistance Reborn which is setting up the new Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. All while planning my trip to the Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World with my wife. I remember how it was in the beginning when I was just a young 20 something hanging out in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian with the Joseph Campbell Foundation for which George Lucas was on the board of directors and seeing the models from the films which had filled my imagination all during my youth. Joseph Campbell had done for mythology what I want to do for business, and after half a century of work, those mythic efforts are finally starting to shape our culture in a positive, and measurable way.

Campbell taught at the little maverick school Sarah Lawrence College where he was free to conduct his outside the box academics to his liking, and to be truthful, if he hadn’t, Star Wars likely would have never happened. But it was a slow go on an obscure topic that took a long time to form roots. And in many ways, I consider Joseph Campbell one of my primary influences growing up. I’ve read all his books many, many times and listened to his various lectures most of my life. And my plans for my own life have been similar, but very different from his. My subject matter goes many steps beyond his study of cultures and comparative religion, but to the source of all activity among the human species. That is why my focus is on business and why this book I’m working on is such a big step that keeps getting deeper and deeper the longer I work on it.

The theme of my two previously published books, The Symposium of Justice and The Tail of the Dragon explore the nature of rules in our society and what their usefulness is. Nobody would argue that having a society of rules is what keeps everything we build together and that is certainly true in business. But rules by their nature prevent innovation, which is the key to all business expansion. My pick of the gunfighter period of the American West, around the 1870s to the 1890s is due to the lawless period of the American experiment that brought forth so much upcoming economic activity, which then created so many opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have had them. The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald captured some of this very well, the idea of old money and new money. The old money was from the aristocratic class migrating from Europe while the new money was made in America by new innovations spawning from this Wild West period. While shortly after the Gatsby novel Ayn Rand wrote her classics, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged which did a good job of getting to the meat of the American experience as opposed to other influences around the world.

I grew up with a natural, and healthy hatred of rules. For as long as I have memories, I despised the limits others placed on me and dedicated myself to solitude and the treasures that could be found there. My best friend growing up was my books, especially the works of Joseph Campbell and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Once I figured out the nature of rules when I was still under ten years old, I stopped caring about them. Teachers and their homework assignments would take a back seat if I had something better to do. Society and their rules for going up and down escalators, speed limits, or not standing too close to a steep edge were all open invitations to me to break those rules to see what society was trying to keep me from. When I could drive a car, I routinely always drove 100 MPH everywhere. Functioning under the speed limit to me was forcing me to live by the averages of mundane people who weren’t interested in pushing any limits but confined to live within the limits of very average, and boring people. And yes, I was involved in several fiery crashes at those speeds. Not where I was driving, but other people, so I know what it feels like and after each one, I resolved to go even faster and defy death even more.

I could tell stories from here to some distant planet well outside our solar system about the many perilous adventures that have spawned off this tribute to pushing limits and questioning every rule that there is. I am far from an anarchist so I do like rules to a point, but I think a culture should always be pushing up against them and that insurance agents and politicians should not be limiting our intellects with stupid conformity to concepts invented by lazy minded losers. So putting all these thoughts together into this Gunfighter’s Guide to Business has turned out to be incredibly revelatory. I have gone back through all the education of the years that brought me to this point in my life, the rules based education of Lean thinking, of college MBA programs, of the kind of talking down that goes on in those endeavors and have crippled the scope of business to this very day, and am flipping all those concepts on their heads. But like all rules, you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You don’t break all the rules only to have anarchy allowing for open theft of possessions by the destitute. There has to be some structure to it all that is conducive to risk-taking and risk mitigation.

Guns are the perfect combination of the two necessities so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they are part of American culture the way they are. If you are reckless with a gun you can hurt lots of people, including yourself. But in shooting you unlock all kinds of gut instinct mechanisms that are obscure to the mind under any other condition, which is the nature of rule breaking so that innovation can flourish. By the time I’m done with this, I think it will have a very Joseph Campbell effect, not on mythology which was his thing, but on business, which is my thing. Looking at something differently than 5000 to 10,000 years of human evolution is a tough undertaking, but it takes being willing to break the very rules of assumptions by their very essence to get there. And that is what I am excited to see percolating out of obscurity in a very unique way. Rules are too often not put into place to help, but to hinder. The rule makers tend to be unenlightened and create the rules to keep challengers from dethroning them from some position of power they have acquired by learning the rules better than their competition. But rules in themselves don’t open the doors to the future, thinking outside of the rules does, so that new rules for new ways of thinking can then be applied. While we can’t have chaos, we can’t allow rules to hold us back from innovation. And that, once its understood has a marvelous potential that I am very, very excited about.

Rich Hoffman

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