I want you to know that all rules are made up.
In Improv we have a few “rules”. I write that in quotes because they’re really just Mighty Good Suggestions. None of the rules of Improv are meant to be followed slavishly.
For example: We say “Don’t ask questions.” The idea behind it is that if you ask a question, you’re just throwing the work onto your partner. Making assumptions is a better play. Instead of “What’s that you’re holding?” it usually works better to endow them with “Oh, you brought me flowers!” You’ve given some information they can use and the scene moves forward.
But, I have definitely seen fantastic scenes where questions were asked.
So, it’s a Good Idea not to ask questions, but the Improv Police won’t come get you if you break the rule.
Someone could follow all of the “rules” of Improv and still come up with a boring or bad scene. The rules aren’t a guarantee of greatness – just that the majority of scenes were built using them.
Rules and laws came about just because someone thought up an idea and then more folks agreed that it was good. It was just a good idea. Every rule we have in the world came about as an idea that someone had. Enough people agreed and then made them into laws.
“Hey, how about we just say that killing people is bad and we all stop doing that?”
Everything is made up AND everything is negotiable.
Granted some things are harder to negotiate because perhaps they’ve been around longer OR there is a lot of social weight there. But, no matter how old or entrenched a rule is, someone has negotiated out of it at least once. (Speeding ticket, Presidents Nixon & Clinton, murder)
One size does not fit all and there are always exceptions.
I’m not condoning anarchy nor do I want people to run out and start breaking every state and federal law they can think of. But some laws are unjust or old and they might need challenging.
If all of the laws that we have were someone’s ideas that got others to agree to and now we’ve made them punishable by our legal system, then think about how many there are that aren’t “on the books” that you abide by.
Ever gone to the bank while nobody else was there and you still did the little velvet rope maze? Why did you do that? The ropes are there and “the rule” is that you can’t skip the line.
That’s how it’s done
When starting a business, you may decide to accept payment on Net-30 terms just because “that’s what businesses do.” But, why do businesses do that? Just because other businesses always did? Is that right for you and your business right now? Maybe, maybe not. But, most new business folks just look around in a haphazard way and choose to follow what they think is the standard.
A real world example is in Amazon.com. All online products companies charged shipping. In some cases, they actually made more money off the shipping and handling charges than their little product. Until one day, Amazon changed to a policy where if you spent more than $25 they’d ship it for free. 2 lb book, free. 120 lb TV, free.
Economists and pundits yelled and blogged about how Amazon was going to go bankrupt on shipping. They did not. They did just the opposite. By removing that barrier, they rocketed. Often, people would buy just one more item to get over the $25 mark to get the free shipping. Win!
Imagine what it was like in the meeting on the day someone stood up and said, “Let’s do free shipping!” There was probably hooting and hollering and laughter about that ridiculous idea. I trust that the person is now enjoying their 6-figure raise.
Your Made-Up Rules
A more important part of this is how we often follow imaginary rules that we make up ourselves. I’m not talking about the larger, moral or “type of person you are” rules. I mean a simple daily thing where we see something, we make up a rule, we follow it.
Have you ever walked up to a ragged line of people and asked, “Is this the line?” Of course, the person said yes and you queued right up! You’re not even sure it’s the right line and the person in front of you only thinks it’s the line because it was vaguely line-shaped when they got there.
Double problem here: It might not even Be a line and if it is a line, it might not be the right one for you. Ask better questions! (And consider the source.)
EX: Zip Zap Zop
In Improv workshops we usually start with a simple game of Zip Zap Zop, where we just pass around a clap and a “Zip”, the next claps to someone else and says “Zap”, and they pass the clap to a third with a “Zop”. They then pass a “Zip” and it keeps going that way in random order.
Once everyone gets it, I make it harder by introducing a substitution. Now you can use A, B and C as an equal substitution for Zip, Zap, Zop. It might now go “Zip, B, C” or “A Zap C” or” Zip Zap C” or some permutation of that.
What’s funny is to see a pattern form “A, B…” and watch the third person start to say “C”, hold it to think for a moment, and say “Zop”.
I’ll let it play through, notice a few other people do a similar thing, and I’ll bring it up at the end. Always taking care not to make anyone feel wrong or belittle them.
See how even here, with this tiny, little game, your brain says “Can’t say C. That would be too obvious. Complete the pattern and people will think you took the easy way out, You’re dumb.”
There IS no rule that says you can’t go A, B, C. But something inside makes a rule to follow and you follow it.
Again, if you don’t distinguish your little voice that tells you what to do, you just do it. Your subconscious just runs you.
Ruling your life
Think about where else this shows up for you: Taking turns in conversation. Letting cars in when you’re driving. How much and when you post on Facebook.
There are no real rules to these. So you make some up and follow them. Which wouldn’t actually be a bad thing if you did it consciously.
If you create your rules for Facebook that say “Post between 1 and 3 times a day and never talk about the kids” that’s an expression of your values and how you want to live your life. Without those rules, you may be inconsistent and show more than you want to the world.
Contrariwise, if you have no conscious rule, as you post you may think “I wonder if I’m posting too much information?” and your brain at that moment follows a rule that your subconscious made. You’re out of the conversation and whatever happens happens.
Once again it’s all about knowing what’s going on in your brain. If you don’t hear it, you just do what it says. Unfortunately, safety and fear will not get you to the success you want.
When you catch yourself doing something that isn’t officially a rule, think about where that came from. Is it valid? Is it useful?
What made-up rule have you caught yourself following?