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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Rules, Rules, Rules

Project, program, portfolio
So many dumb rules!

“Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”

Douglas MacArthur

“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

I was driving home from work when my car told me that the key fob battery was getting low. I am impressed when technology has a common sense solution to a problem like this! Since this has happened in the past, I have a supply of the required 3V batteries. If you are unfamiliar with them, they are small round discs with "+" on one side and "-" on the other.

Normally I would just disassemble the fob, cut open the package and insert the battery. For some reason I noticed the instructions on the back of the package. Here they are:

WARNING: 1. Keep away from small children. If swallowed, promptly see Doctor. 2. Set properly confirming ends (+/-). 3. Fire and Burn Hazard, do not Recharge, disassemble, or heat above 212 Fahrenheit or throw cell into fire. 4. Do not dispose in the trash.


These “instructions” are as unhelpful as they are unclear. And so many for a battery!

Take the first one “keep away from small children”. Does this still apply when it is inserted in the key fob? Is that the real reason small children ride in the back seat? Maybe the stated airbag risk is just masking the potential harm of proximity to the battery! And if the thing is that dangerous, do I want to keep it in my pocket?

Or is the real issue that a small child might swallow a battery? I suspect digesting lithium is probably not recommended.

I discard the second one. I can tell the symbols apart, and if I get it wrong it won’t work.

I also discard the third one as I have no intention of building the equipment to recharge a $1 battery, nor do I have any desire to take it apart or put the battery in my oven.

The fourth one is problematic. If you can’t place the battery in the trash, where do you put it?

The entire series of instructions is emblematic of micromanagement as a risk avoidance technique. I would suspect almost no one reads the fine print on the back of a battery container, so the only reason that is there is to indemnify the manufacturer from risk associated with misuse.

If your kid swallows your key fob, you were warned!

This thinking is also prevalent in many large organizations. The more complicated and confusing the organization is, the more likely it will have some sort of annual certification process. This normally consists of everyone taking a predefined suite of courses and then certifying they took the classes. There is usually little value to the training, but if you screw up something the organization can hold up that training certificate and “prove” you knew better.

Why would anyone think that a web of complicated and sometimes contradictory rules are beneficial to an organization? Almost no one does, and yet there are the rules. Why?

I’ll discuss that next!

And yes, I threw the battery in the trash.


I have been approached by a publisher. They would like to publish a compilation of these blog posts in a “management” book that takes a humorous approach to a wide variety of management afflictions. I am very excited and look forward to taking this new adventure! I am also pleased to announce that the traffic on both this website and www.seaclutch.com are up almost 200% over last year. Thanks everyone!


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