The Rules Are: There Ain’t No Rules

The Rules Are: There Ain’t No Rules

Aug. 16, 2019

Everyone needs rules.

Without rules, there’s no discipline.

Without rules, there’s only chaos.

Rules provide the framework for great achievement.

But Presidents’ Day taught me a different lesson.

Starting almost two decades ago, I ran a junior clinic that always fell on Presidents’ Day.

And, for some reason, I decided to do an experiment on the skilled teenagers in my group.

The idea was: I wanted to make them think as creatively as possible. And I wanted to do it in as strange a way as possible.

So, instead of our usual themes, I ran drills that gave huge incentives to creative ideas.

If a student hit a winner, they would receive extra points if they immediately yelled out the name of a President. If they hesitated, no reward. If the name of the President was especially creative, they got a boatload of points.

For this day, the most creative kids would end of on the top courts, not necessarily the best kids.

How did it go?

First, there were a lot of questions. Can it be from any year? Can I say the same name twice? Can it be from other countries? Could it be a fictional President?

My answer? You can’t repeat the same name but you can do anything you like.

Every year it started off slowly. A student would hit a winner and look at me blankly. Then a student would hit a winner, stammer for several seconds, and then blurt out, “George Washington.”

Sorry, too late. Not quick enough. No points.

Anger would follow. At least for a while.

And then one kid would come up with a good one.

“Martin Van Buren!”

Extra points.

That usually started a landslide.

Abraham Lincoln (small points) turned into Warren Harding (big points) and the rewards started flying.

Then they’d cross over into Presidents from other countries, and then they’d cross into fake movie Presidents. All big point winners.

Sometimes I’d even give out extra points for answers like “Ben Franklin” or “Henry Ford” (actual answers).

As long as they were trying to be creative, close enough was good enough.

I was hoping that a creativity lesson might bleed into their games.

Maybe they’d use this creativity muscle when they were playing on a windy day with crazy parents screaming at them, and figure out a way to win anyway.

The interesting thing was: nothing got started until they realized there weren’t any rules. Once they realized they could do whatever they wanted, their minds raced to new and interesting solutions.

It turns out, this might’ve been a good idea.

In offering advice to parents, psychologist Adam Grant noted that creativity may be difficult to nurture, but it is easy to thwart. He pointed to a study that found an average of six household rules for typical children, compared to one in households with extremely creative children. -David Epstein, Range

Every time I get stuck, I think back to what those juniors playing on Presidents’ Day taught me.

If we need to find a new solution, get rid of the rules.

Rules and creativity don’t mix.

My book is called The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.