Systems not Rules

Systems work. Rules don't.

There's a juice counter at work with two machines placed on either side of a central slab with fruits and vegetables. The one on the right has a sign in red that reads "No Ginger".

One of the machines stopped working one day, and so after calling a lady from the kitchen staff, I started chatting with her. After a few exchanges, she told me "You know what, you're all smart folks working at the top software company in the world. And yet, I'm always dumbfounded here. No one reads this sign and I find ginger every other day in this machine on the right!"

There's a simple fix. Move the ginger out of the center and to the side that allows juicing ginger. Keep the sign for sure, but now that you have an additional barrier, it would really take conscious effort for a person to mistakenly not read the sign.

Humans tend to take the path of least resistence. So, setup systems that cause barriers or hindrances, making the easier solution that which follows the rule.

Other examples where systems work better than rules:

  • Rule: Please take a shower before entering the swimming pool.
    System: The only way to the swimming pool is through the shower room.
  • Rule: Please go slow.
    System: Set up speed breakers.
  • Rule: Please file taxes before August 1.
    System: You'll be fined each month for a delay on filing taxes.


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