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Less is More

Oct 08, 2019

I didn’t grow up in a home with a lot of rules. Our house was a parsonage, situated next door to the church my father served as pastor. Embedded in the family culture was the religious tradition we practiced, but with less emphasis on rule-following than on what our tradition considered the ultimate commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Honesty was central to what was expected of us — oh, and recognition that any misbehavior by the preacher’s kids would reflect poorly on the preacher himself.

It was our mother who had the primary influence, and by the time I came along, she had raised five teenagers, four of them boys. From my father, I learned the importance of being nice; from my mother, I learned the importance of doing my best. Because I believe, with the author of Where the Crawdads Sing, that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, my parents’ admonitions remain central to my being.

But neither of those is a rule. They never were. They were instead goals, aspirations, words to live by.

Associations are not families but collectives of like-minded individuals who share a common interest. Most operate with rules. We call them bylaws. The Society is mindful that its bylaws work for the organization and its chapters, each of which has its own bylaws. Society bylaws outline our governance framework, eligibility requirements for membership, expectations for chapters and members, and more. A standing committee reviews our bylaws each biennium and makes recommendations to the Board of Directors and the convention when revision is deemed necessary.

Businesses also operate with rules. Employee handbooks, faculty handbooks, homeowners association covenants — all outline in great detail the expectations of individuals in an organization. Such documents can be ponderous, even tedious. Whether they need to be is the question. Might a “less is more” approach work just as well?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the legendary employee handbook of the retailer Nordstrom? Here it is:

Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them, so our employee handbook is very simple. We have only one rule: Use good judgment in all situations.

Might such an approach work in your business, family, or organization? I’m not proposing we do away with laws, bylaws, or regulations; just merely observing that entities tend to create rules in order to control behavior when a less arbitrary approach could be an option.

So here’s to Phi Kappa Phi’s words to live by – our mission statement: To recognize and promote academic excellence in all fields of higher education and to engage the community of scholars in service to others. And to our motto: Let the love of learning rule humanity.

 

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