English actor and author Alan Bennett once said, “We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn’t obey the rules.”

We equate rules with the difference between order and chaos. We often, quite negatively, associate rules as being an obstacle to success. Depending on your perspective, those seen breaking the rules are either bad people—dirty hippies with no regard for decent society—or as trailblazers and pioneers—those that refused to follow the rules in order to forge a new path and vision for the world.

Both of these perspectives are valid. In fact, it’s usually one of these two perspectives that is conjured when we hear that “rules are meant to be broken.”

Though parsed and reworked over years of its adoption into popular culture, the quote is attributed to Douglas MacArthur. However, even in its full, unadulterated form, the quote is often misinterpreted as an endorsement for ignoring the rules or that somehow rules are a bad thing. What I believe is being expressed is more accurately captured in the quote from Pablo Picasso—“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”—or when the Dalai Lama said, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

Rules are actually a natural and evolving thing, a way for us to determine the best way to do something. For instance, how to bring the greatest freedom to our society without sacrificing safety and order, how to run a business that brings the greatest benefit to its customers and the greatest profitability to its owners, and even how to build a shelf that won’t result in all of its contents crashing to the floor.

Perhaps for the last two examples it would be preferable to call them best practices and not rules, and it is the way we educate our youth and ourselves. We learn the basics, ground ourselves in the foundation of a subject to the point where we can bring our own thoughts and experiences to bear, thinking “outside the box” or pushing the envelope of what we understand, and perhaps finding a newer or better way to approach that subject.

It is all evident in the scientific method. We form a hypothesis, experiment until it becomes a solid theory, and if it stands the test of time and attempts to prove it wrong, it becomes a given, a known, a law…or rule.

Our industry is no stranger to rules and standards and best practices. Although much has changed in the last year and the near future can look a little daunting, understanding the rules of before, what is happening now, and how it may affect us moving forward is always good practice. So check out “GD&T’s New Rule and What it Means for Measurement,” “Navigating Supply Chain Challenges with Force Testing,” and everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!