When to Break the Rules (#90)

We should break our own rules when following them will violate our first principles. The rule is a proxy to the value we defined, and a rule is only as good as our ability to adhere to our values when we execute it.

Musical notes dance in a golden sky, underneath music notes curve in endless waves
Break the Rules, JLP

Much of our paradox exploration has been about establishing the principles by which we desire to operate, especially when we are betwixt contrasting forces. Allowing our values to help direct our course of action provides us helpful guidance on the path to making better decisions and producing improved results. Over time these values and principles evolve into a set of rules that have served us well. So well, in fact, that we may forget the association to the initial principle altogether. When this happens we may follow a rule simply because we are so accustomed to it. "This is just the way we do things," is an explanation we might hear or say.

Yet we don't want to blindly follow rules. We have missed the mark if we follow our rule and violate our principle — it is much better to honor the principle and violate the rule. Now this doesn't mean we cannot change our principles, surely we can, and should, with a conscious effort and thoughtful consideration. In fact, it's healthy to reevaluate our principles from time to time, ensuring that our beliefs and actions remain fresh and valid. We can apply an expiration date to our values, as a countdown timer, like we explored in Reconsideration & Judgement, to know when its time to review again.

A musician, when starting out, is taught the rules of rhythm. You may recall our reference to a musician's goal of playing "in the pocket" from our exploration of Perfection & Style. The purpose is to be in time with the rest of the band, establishing a known cadence to make the music sound synchronous. A novice musician may often count out loud to establish this tempo — 1, 2, 3, 4 — 1, 2, 3, 4. An intermediate musician will be more comfortable with a swing feel, where notes may intentionally fall just shy or just after the beat. This adds color and style to a performance, enhancing phrasing and giving the music more feeling. An advanced player may deviate more drastically, floating away from the tempo and expressing something unexpected, an action referred to as "throwing it away". A first principle of music is to express emotions, and sometimes the rules we learn prevent the kind of emotion the musician wants to convey. When this happens we break the rules.

Aside: A great example of throwing it away can be found in Tim Pierce's break down of Jared James Nichols guitar solo.

The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.