Breaking unwritten rules

… and within organizations, within industries, even within whole global systems, “unwritten rules” often get in the way and sometimes even block changes that people know are needed – and want. 

There is a final reason why in reality Breaking the Rules of a social system – however large or small – will sometimes be really tough.  It is because some of those Rules you have to break are not just legacy policies and process descriptions – they are “unwritten rules”: the advice you give a friend about how best to survive, how best to thrive within your department, your division, your industry, your family, your gang, your social class, your country.

Almost thirty years ago, my first breakthrough in analyzing The Future as a system was to devise a way of decoding the logic behind unwritten rules, and how they combine together – sometimes to make an organization wonderfully effective, sometimes to threaten a whole industry.

As an example, it may seem trivial that a very common unwritten rule is “Keep your boss happy”.  But, if my boss can give me a multi-million-dollar bonus and (whatever it says in the employee manual) that decision will be based only on my individual short-term financial performance – I’ll take whatever risks I think I can get away with, because if I get it right I can retire at 30.

I have worked with most of the big financial institutions around the world.  The unwritten rules in that last paragraph were very common across global banking in 2007.  And the CEOs knew the risks.  They knew because I had told many of them.  But on balance it was more comfortable for them to continue with things as they were.  Typical pushback.

By 2008 those unwritten rules had bought the whole of the global economy to its knees.  All our national economies are still suffering the consequences.

So, my question to you: Based on everything I have explained about how the future works, and given how deeply reinforced all the ways of working were within such an ancient profession as Banking, would you expect that a few years of politicians putting pressure onto “greedy bankers” has now transformed the industry?  Have they managed to Break the Rules and overcome any pushback?  Have governments forced sufficient changes that the same thing could never happen again?

No, of course they haven’t!

Below the surface, the global financial system has hardly changed at all.