Break the rules and change behaviour instead

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In December 1995 John Rentoul wrote in the Independent about the Government’s war against Whitehall red tape. Not the first war of its kind by any means. What made me smile was that the approach to deal with it was to order ministers to present a monthly report on any planned new regulations to Michael Heseltine, then the Deputy Prime Minister.
More red tape!

To be fair the deregulation unit did at one point identified 1,000 regulations for abolition.
Great work, well done.
Until someone points out that the Government creates about 1,400 statutory instruments (rules which do not need parliamentary approval) every year. Which is exactly why the new rule was added.

Feeling dizzy yet? Rules tend to send us round in circles until the administration of them overwhelms us. Then there are so many we can’t remember what we are supposed to do and eventually we forget the reason they were introduced in the first place.

Now, we do need some rules as we all need some level of structure in our lives but we are also a breed of animal that doesn’t like following rules really. So when we need to change what is happening why do we so easily revert to creating a new rule, in our department, our business or our home? There is a much better way that is more enjoyable and much more effective.

Change our behaviour and we won’t need the rules.

When I talk to people about how to do this in their environment, I talk about examples from completely different walks of life that illustrate the idea and the outcomes. Then think about the issues they have and how we can think differently about them.

I came across a great video that shows how behaviour was changed with Physiotherapy compliance. The idea makes exercise fun for the patient, it means greater compliance with the treatment, meaning fewer visits to the NHS, saving NHS funds and a faster recovery for the patient. Not forgetting the added bonus of an improved experience. What is there to dislike?


I could see the bee game catching on without the need for physiotherapy.  This could make the gym a completely different experience full of games.

How about littering?  I am not suggesting we start but look at how the state of Texas in the USA stopped it.

They had a problem with litter. Instead of spending money on enforcement they invested in a campaign called ‘Don’t mess with Texas’.  They picked up on the fierce patriotism of their residents and made litter signify a much broader deep seated pride in their state. The result was that in the first year the state saved $1,000,000 and littering reduced by 29%, and by 79% over the 5 year campaign.

Essentially if the vision is strong enough and what we ask is clear and links to something we naturally care about or enjoy we will willingly follow and support it. So let’s get into a new habit, let’s think twice next time we consider introducing a rule.

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