Breaking the rules before understanding them

A dear friend regaled me not long ago with a tale of how he was part of a team that were tasked with solving a problem. The methods of solving that problem were realistically deemed to be finite, one was the path well trodden but was not terribly desirable from their way of thinking, whereas the other was full of unknowns. They went the other path, and produced something that ultimately failed- but it failed brilliantly in that they achieved something that others deemed impossible.
I’ll explain with more context. They were building a mobile application. They could use the manufacturer’s tools, or use an open source solution. The open source solution unbeknownst to the team had severe limitations due to the manufacturers eco-system. They used that tool to do things it was never intended to do. It caused all kinds of odd behaviour, but when it was presented to someone else who knew of such rules- they could not wrap their head around the fact that they had managed to achieve it. By his reckoning, they had achieved an impossible feat.

In a music context, there seems to be two very different schools of thought:

  1. You need to know the rules (theory) before choosing to break them.
  2. There are no rules, dont believe anyone who tells you that there are.

Case in point, the tritone which is dubbed the “diabolus in musica” (“the Devil in music”) and is generally deemed to be avoided. Some have used it intentionally knowing of its significance. Others use it because they’ve created a song where it works complete unaware it shouldn’t have been used. I suspect this is common as musicians are often self taught, often by sound.
I would imagine Music is just one example, I’m sure the same thing applies to Art and perhaps even architecture.

In software, the same applies. For example this morning- I looked at an API and realised it would let me do what I wanted. I was intentionally ignorant around whatever rules were in play. I just used the API to do what I wanted. The author of the API would probably have strong views about what I did. He may be impressed, he might have scratched his head and ultimately shrugged. He might have been disgusted and then promptly removed the capability for me to break the rules.

Teams do the same thing, especially teams starting down a path towards Agile or Lean practices. They dont know what they’re doing, they’re just exploring the possibilities. The Agile Manifesto is intentionally vague about implementation. It is not a tutorial, it is not prescriptive.
Many have read it then generated prescriptive processes or directives in line with it. More still have skipped the bits that didn’t feel right to them and introduced other ideals that are specific to their organisation.
I wonder, does the Manifesto have rules? even implied, it suggests certain behaviours over others. As a practitioner when someone breaks those rules, or encourages others to break them, it can be very frustrating. I find myself now saying- “so what?” maybe it isn’t a rule at all? or if it is, perhaps it is worth breaking just to see what is possible?
As long the customer isn’t hurt, as long the business doesn’t go insolvent due to this decision- what’s the big deal? We could reflect and learn from it…

I suspect many of us aspire to learn “how things are done” and in many ways we become conformist as it allows us to belong. Some however shun this and don’t care what is perceived as the right way and instead just do whatever it is their way even if they do not yet know what it is.

It is something I’m only now just beginning to learn.
It is a choice. I can choose to seek out rules, so I can then choose to follow or ignore them, or I can choose to not even bother looking and just do what I want. There are consequences of course; but I believe now that its worth discovering them rather than worry so much about what might happen. I also do not seek knowledge so I can create my own rules. I used to, they kept me safe, but were ultimately limiting constructs, especially when I then applied them to other people.

Think of all the things you could have discovered but didn’t because you limited yourself from even trying. How often did you try to limit others due to rules you actually created for yourself? What if they weren’t there at all?

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