Over-regulations are killing our ability to think for ourselves!

Over-regulations are killing our ability to think for ourselves!

I ran into this article in The Economist about a book recently published titled “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government” by Philip Howard, which argues for the need to inject some common sense into America’s psyche.  As this section from the article points out:

A GENERATION ago, after a series of horrible scandals, Australia ditched hundreds of detailed rules governing nursing homes for the elderly.  Instead of insisting, for example, that they should offer at least 80 square feet (7.4 square metres) of floor area per resident, the government set broad principles.  Care homes were told to offer a “homelike environment” and to respect residents’ “privacy and dignity”.  

Philip Howard, an American lawyer and campaigner for better governance, records the alarm that this triggered among regulatory experts; one team of Australian academics declared themselves “embarrassed” by their country.  Yet alarm turned to surprise.  Australian nursing homes improved measurably, as staff and owners were freed to think for themselves, rather than blindly following checklists.

That last sentence in particular caught my eye.  Though this is a universal problem among all countries in the world, what makes it particular onerous in North America is the fact that much of this driven by the litigious nature of its society.  In particular, it is the fear of litigation that drives much of the over regulations and governance that is starting to choke innovations and free thinking required for it.


But what is particularly annoying is when you see such effects intrude upon your everyday life.  As a person who makes his living from the field of project management as a consultant and trainer, I see such effects on a daily basis.  I wouldn’t say it is so much an effect from the need to avoid litigation and/or regulatory compliance though that is one of the drivers no doubt, but from an obsessive need for organizations to maintain consistency and predictability.  This is understandable as companies need to protect their investments and ensure the resources that they have hired are acting in a manner consistent with generating revenue and/or minimizing costs and risk (preferably doing both simultaneously).

Paradoxically, this often times works the opposite of its intended effect.  For rather than creating an environment of consistent performance (hopefully growing) and compliance, it creates an environment of complacency and mediocrity and worse, paralysis when things don’t follow a “checklist” to the letter.  It becomes a vicious circle: When things go wrong, people have a tendency to add more rules and checklists and to add more people to oversee that these rules and checklist are being followed.  This just adds more complexity, bureaucracy and paralysis generating an endless broken loop.

So what’s the solution?  Probably as Howard’s book advocates, to use a more common sense approach to developing principles-based  guidelines for rules of conduct and engagement and allowing project managers and resources to think for themselves and self-organize.  Change is hard, but if we don’t overcome this we are slowly killing our ability to think for ourselves which means we are conversely killing our ability to innovate which is a dangerous precedent to follow in this new world!

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