March 27th, 2011

planet

being a rules person

Ever take one of those bullshitty personality type tests that tell you that there are big obvious divisions between people and if you know about them you can understand your differences and work better with people? Yeah I don't usually buy it. I think most personality traits people have are fuzzy and overlapping.

Except this one: I'm think I'm a rules person, to a degree slightly outside the norm of the general populations. And it's been getting me down lately. And by "lately" I mean for the past, oh, five years or so? Especially at my work, but also in organizations, in politics, on the internet.

I feel like it sets me apart because there are clearly people who think it's fine to create arbitrary unreachable rules, and when no one follows them they don't care as long as the rule is written someplace. When I want to make the rules better to change them to match what we're doing, people ask if I'm bored or crazy or something.

I'm not saying "I follow all speed limits" or "I tell kids to just say no to drugs"... it's not that kind of rule-abiding I'm a stickler for. I don't want to follow rules because it makes me angelic, I want to follow them because I believe in systems. I think if a process is broken and you can change it, you should. If the process is stupid, like if you have to submit a form to ten different people, then dammit I'm going to submit that form to all ten people 30 times in a row until they're annoyed enough to finally tell me they don't all have to see the form. If a rule works, I'm going to follow it, I'm not going to throw out something that works to make my own thing just because I'm too lazy to read the existing rules.

I hate 500 page employee handbooks, stocked full of everything anyone has ever wanted to wish for new employees, but no one has ever cared to enforce. I hate how in Atlanta all the speed limits are 55, which is so ludicrously low everybody just throws it out and drives 100. I REALLY hate it when companies say "you can't mention us in social networks" but the CEO has a LinkedIn page with the company logo and he's connected with half the damn company!

You know how, on the internet, you sort of manage to attract people just like you even though we all think we're so diverse? Well my forum is full of rule people... new people join and everyone tells them they must read the FAQ, we even wiki-ized the FAQ so we can all make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Wikipedia is like that too I've noticed. Whole species do not get the attention that a wikipedia help page does. It's full of rule people.

It all made me think, for a long time, that I was just one of a billion rule people. But I don't think that, because if everyone was like me there wouldn't be so many pointless rules, or missing rules or bad rules.

I think rules are important to make things more efficient. If everybody just stared at each other wondering who should order food next at Burger King wouldn't that be awkward? But there's a line and we all stand in it. It's not oppressive, it's smooth. So you should look at what the rules are, be familiar with policies, know what people are doing, to save yourself the trouble of reinventing the wheel. You should document reality. Rules should be brief, accurate, and helpful. It's really important to me and I hate hate hate people acting like they don't have time to read rules or don't have time to make them better.

Call it a green or gold thing, I guess. Or an ISTJ thing. I just feel weird lately.