New Game, different rules

Webb-Ellis-at-Rugby,In 1823, legend has it that at Rugby School,  William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the football and run with it. The rest, as they say, is history.

If he did that today, he’d be sent off. We have rules, and people in charge of making them,

Games are easy – clearly defined rules that change only rarely. There have only ever been three changes in the rules of Lawn Tennis since it’s inception. The court is the same size, the sequence of play is clear, the scoring rules clear.

Nobody comes on to play with a golf club, or serves a rugby ball. Players can develop their skills within very tight boundaries, and can develop incremental improvements to extraordinary levels, confident that they have the time to do so.

There are very few other areas where the same applies. Even the law is subject to judgement and opinion, and the other professions have seen ingenious, often brilliant ways of circumventing rules (Tax law springs to mind.

Business is another case altogether. When AirBnB picked up Hilton’s ball and ran with it, nobody sent them off. When Elon Musk developed Tesla, nobody gave him a yellow card. We just watch, and wonder, and go back to what we were doing.

Often, we create our own rules – processes, protocols, authority levels – all designed to keep the game we think we are playing under control and convince ourselves that efficiency and control is king. Except, nobody else is listening.

If a champions league footballer wandered into an NFL game, believing his skills and training will prepare him, he’s in for an unpleasant, and probably painful shock. It’s football Jim, but not as we know it.

The point is this, the business you are working in this morning is different to the one you turned up at yesterday, and you’re a different person to the one who turned up yesterday. As Heraclitus said, “no man treads in the same river twice. Different river, different person”

Whilst this constant change has always been the case, it is now far faster, more connected, and more complex. It means the time we have to play the game we’re in is getting ever shorter, that we have to be able to recognise the changes taking place, and that we have to train for the new game whilst still playing the old one. That’s some order, and unsurprisingly, very few of us do it.

Maybe we need to think in terms of having a TMO, and independent person with an overview, to support, or question the referee we answer to. All the people playing  in the game, including the referee, are so absorbed in the here and now, they become blind to what else is going on outside the game they’re in.

Meanwhile, someone, somewhere, is picking up the ball and changing the game.


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