Is it just me…or are unwritten rules a bigger barrier to our success than written ones?

I’ve had this on my mind for a while, and have started this blog entry a couple of times, but I didn’t feel like I had a hook. Then this past weekend something happened that helped me consolidate my thoughts.

I’m very privileged that my youngest daughter is a chorister at Wells Cathedral in Somerset (following in her big sister’s shoes) and I get to sit in quiet contemplation on many Friday afternoons as she sings choral evensong. Last Friday I noticed that in the seats across the aisle in the quire there was a lady, probably in her eighties, mouthing the words to the entire service. As there didn’t seem to be any reaction from those few people sitting around her, I assumed that she wasn’t actually making any noise, but just simply mouthing the words.

I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction was not particularly charitable. This was not only slightly strange behaviour, but was also contrary to the etiquette of evensong; that you sat in silence and meditated as the choir worked their vocal magic. Thankfully this was fleeting thought, as I realised that, in fact, it doesn’t say anything, anywhere about how you should behave during evensong. There are obvious social norms that should be adhered to purely out of courtesy to others enjoying the experience, but it certainly doesn’t say, anywhere, that you can’t mouth the words to the service. In fact, the lady concerned was clearly more engaged with the words and momentum of the service than I was, and her face shone with delight.

I actually came to envy her. She was uninhibited and free. I was caught up in (non-existent) doctrine. I ask you, who do you think was happier in their own skin at that moment? It wasn’t me. In fact, in that fleeting moment I had blatantly contradicted a number of actual written doctrines of the Christian faith, and put myself at odds with the very reason I was there in the first place.

And so it is in our work lives. Too often we hold ourselves, and each other, to account for rules and ways of working that are quite clearly at odds with the underlying culture of the organisations we work for. We deflate ambition by being cynical and criticising people who are willing to take risks. We allow fear of looking foolish to hold us, and others, back from pointing out that fatal flaw in the plan, or we don’t share ideas because there is a general view that they give us internal competitive edge, and to share them will devalue them to us, rather than revolutionise the world!

We will shout to the rafters about bureaucracy and written rules that get in the way, but if we just stopped for a minute to look at those things we live by that we have created for ourselves, I believe we will find far more that we can change that will have a far wider reaching benefit than anything that is written down.

Let’s get a few more people acting like the lady in the quire, it can only do us some good.

Or is it just me?

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