Interesting article on rules versus values. It’s talking about raising kids, but you see this sort of thing in the corporate world, too; if you’ve ever worked in an organisation that focuses a lot on “vision statements” and “core values”, this is the sort of thing they’re trying (usually poorly, thanks to less-than-skilled middle managers) to implement.

Growing up, my parents were more “values people” than “rules people” (they were senior executives, so go figure). Like, even when I was an infant: My parents tell a story about my dad’s last day of parental leave. I’d gotten into the habit of wanting to get up and play for a bit at 2am. My parents are naturally nocturnal–now that they’re retired their hours are like 11am to 3am–so dad would do this, right up until the day before he had to go back to work. He and mum stressed about how to break me of my 2am waking habit, until dad finally said, “I’ll just sit down and explain to her why we can’t do that anymore!” He did and, by the way they tell it, I never woke up at 2am again. In other words, rather than making a rule (“in bed by x o’clock!”) they instilled a value (“even if we want to stay up, we have to get enough sleep to go to work/school the next day”). As such, I never remember having a formal bedtime, though I do remember setting my own bedtime at 11pm, based on the criteria that, a) I needed to be up at 7am to get ready for school, b) I needed eight hours of sleep, c) it took me half an hour to shower and get ready for bed, and d) most of my favourite TV shows1 ended at 10:30pm. On weekends, I used to stay up until I passed out, but on weekdays? In bed by 11pm, no exceptions.2

Other values-based tricks my parents played on me when I was a kid included stressing the importance of education and then letting me pick my own school, which meant I could never complain that it sucked (because I’d chosen it, “in consultation” with my parents). Meanwhile, “rules” we had included things like”not wearing all black” (I’m an only-slightly reformed goth who still rarely wears anything more colourful than dark charcoal) and “no drawing demons” which… well, in a word: Lain.

My other favourite anecdote about rules-versus-values is the librarians at my senior high school, who ran the school’s IT network. Because they weren’t technically adroit themselves, they used to take any kid they caught trying to hack or circumvent the network (i.e. breaking rules) and put them in the admin team (so they now had buy-in to the value of keeping the network secure). In the corporate world, it’s the difference between a boss who tells you what task they want done and allows you to decide how you want to do it, versus the process-obsessed micromanager.3

Point being: don’t underestimate the power of values-based buy-in.

  1. Yes, this was a million years ago. []
  2. In fact, the one major exception I do remember was 9/11. I had a small TV in my room and I used to turn it on just before bed to watch Lateline and also sometimes Star Trek because yes I am a huge nerd. On that particular night? Yeah. Guess what they were showing. []
  3. To be fair, some jobs and some tasks are more process-critical than others. But for what it’s worth, it’s known that the less control an employee has over their work tasking, the higher stress they exhibit and the more likely they are to burn out. And yes, this means low-level work like, say, factory labour or call-center operations are more stressful–in a more psychologically damaging way–than say, being a CEO. []