The Shackles of Liberty
An elitist private school was faced with a unique problem, where a bunch of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick. They would apply it in the restroom, which was fine. But after that, they would press their lips on the mirror, leaving dozens of little lip prints. The untidy marks on the mirror caused inconvenience for the rest of the girls during the morning hours.
Every night, the janitor would remove the stains; but the very next day, the renegade gang would put them back. Finally, the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the janitor.
She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the janitor who had to clean the mirrors every night (you can just imagine all the yawns from some of the little princesses). To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she asked the janitor to show the girls how much effort was required.
The janitor took out a long-handed mop, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then, there were no lip prints on the mirror.
Often some organizational policies are perceived as too harsh, particularly in the knowledge industry where one finds a responsible workforce. However, in the absence of well-defined structures, a few strokes of indiscipline by a small number of brushes end up corrupting the larger picture. Sure, most of us don’t need to be ‘taught’. But a few of us do need ‘education’.
Liberty is important at an individual level. But so are the rules to protect liberty at a collective level. And that is the genesis of a mature organization’s regulatory framework.