What Rules Can You Break?

Rules.  Rules.  Rules.  There is certainly a point to rules.  They help to organize life, to bring structure to our efforts, to assist us in executing operations with ease.  But, sometimes, might it make sense to rethink the validity – particularly in light of a current situation – to break or at least bend a few rules?

In his work on creative thinking, Roger von Oech asks the question, “What rules can you break?”  He reminds us that Napoleon broke the rules on the proper approach to manage a military campaign… Beethoven broke the rules on how a symphony should be written… most advances in science, art, medicine, cooking, and design have resulted from someone challenging the rules and trying different approaches.  Allow me to explain.

Last Thursday, I was invited to attend a birthday dinner for a relative at a nearby restaurant.  The reservation was called for 6:30pm for 10 people.  When I walked in the door, the host was on the phone.  He acknowledged me with a nod and spent a minute or so wrapping up his call at which time he said, “Welcome, how may I help you?”  I said, “I’m here for the Smith birthday dinner.”  Apparently, I was the first to arrive.  The fellow followed up by saying, “Once your full party is here, we can seat you.”  Now, mind you, the restaurant was only about half full.  We had a reservation.  I was only a few minutes early.  Within a few seconds, another three people arrived to which the host responded, “well, that’s a good start.”  So, the four of us stood in the waiting area for another six minutes or so until, at long last, our full party had assembled.

So, why the long, sad story?  I want to know, why was it important to the host to have me wait in his reception area for eight minutes against the backdrop of his half-empty restaurant?  Was he hoping I would meander over the to bar to purchase a drink?  Might not I have ordered a drink from the comfort of our table once seated?  What limited him from considering the comfort of a patron?  Was he enjoying my company? (Note:  We were not engaged in conversation beyond what I have already conveyed.)  Simply put, it seems that he was following some rule that he had read about how to oversee the reception desk at the restaurant.

Sure, I can respect the host’s decision to follow the rules of the restaurant in which he works.  On a busier night, I totally would have understood and appreciated his approach.  The ultimate problem is this:  Dinner was tasty.  I had a lovely time celebrating with my fellow guests.  However, what I remember most about the evening is my irritation at having had to stand in that lobby… looking at the half-empty restaurant when what I could have been doing was sipping on a glass of wine from our table.  Perhaps we all would have been better off had he implemented a few rules of his own – however fleeting and temporary they might have been.

Happy Networking!

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