Rules vs. Values

I have a friend who works for the government and can't tell me exactly what he does.

It has something to do with artificial intelligence and video cameras.

I begged him one time to give me a hint and he said this:

"When you look at a guy walking down the street and he gets into a car, you know intuitively that the guy is -- suprise!-- now in the car. But a computer doesn't know that intuitively. You have to program rules to tell the computer that what it is tracking is now inside something else. Then you continue to do this for every conceivable situation."

After a while, as you can probably guess, there are a lot of rules. Thousands upon thousands of rules.

This is why for the first 50 years of artificial intelligence they haven't been able to make computers that can operate at the same speed and intuition as the human mind-- unless it's in the highly regimented and specified context of games like Chess.

Another approach to artificial intelligence has emerged over the past 20 years or so and it approaches things very differently. Rather than programing thousands of rules, they program simple machines with 3 or 4 rules. Then they give the machine a goal and then give it memory-- so that it can learn.

A few rules.
A goal.

What they've discovered is that when these machines are put into mazes and other complex and even dynamic learning environments they are able to learn, adapt and progress to a goal much better than the rule oriented A.I. They can improvise and even surprise the people who invented the machines as they evolve in unpredictable ways.

Leadership in organizations exist in much the same way.

You can create a long list of things you want people to do. You can create lots of rules in a manual or training binder, etc. Or you can help people embrace a handful of values and then be surprised at their innovation. You can train people to death or you can throw them in the deep end and teach them how to swim.

One of the worst things you can do in an entrepreneurial culture is over train. Mostly because what you teach people by over training is "you can't do this yet." But if you give people a goal and help them embrace your values they will find greatness and ingenuity inside of them that they didn't even know they had.

On the flip side, if you're not getting the output you want from people or teams there are 3 possible reasons. 1. The team doesn't know what the goals are. 2. The team doesn't have the same values. 3. The team isn't learning as it makes mistakes and successes.

So how about your work environment? Do they (or you) over train or do they (or you) struggle with one of the 3 problems above?

And how about the cultures you lead-- friends or family or teams or clubs-- do you lead by creating rules or by instilling values?

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