Norms and Rules

by | Jun 28, 2019 | Change |

Earlier this month Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast had an episode called Norms and Rules which I highly recommend to listen to. One of the stories he tells is how in some parts of the USA, the norm is to come to a ‘rolling stop’ at a stop sign, but carry on if there is nothing coming. The traffic rule is to stop, but the norm is that a rolling stop is acceptable and you won’t get a ticket. While in our parts of the USA, the rule is the norm and so if you roll, you get a ticket. I can attest to this being true in Canada as well.

This distinction between norms and rules has been cruelly played out on a global stage during the Women’s World Cup of Football (aka soccer for my North American friends). The rule is that keepers (aka goalies) need to have at least one foot on the goal line when the ball is kicked in a penalty shot situation. The norm for years is that keeper move slightly before the kick is taken; no one stays on the line. The football powers that be decided to enforce the rule at this World Cup and have been using VAR (the video assistant referee) to enforce it. The result? Multiple penalty shots being taken twice and a lot of heartbreak.

It’s difficult to be in situations where you are used to the norm being enforced, but then it’s changed to be the rule being enforced. And frankly, vice versa.

We all experience this. Sometimes it’s when we switch teams within an organisation or get a new manager or switch jobs or enter into a new relationship, new community, and so on.

And sometimes it’s on a global stage in a complex humanitarian situation where millions of people are starving. Alongside of the World Cup, this month in Yemen saw the World Food Programme issue an ultimatum to community leaders that if the people in need of aid were not biometrically registered, they would stop food distribution. The norms changed over night and aid is no longer free and humanitarian principles have changed. Yemen is complex and this would have been a difficult decision to make. In a recent podcast episode called Frontiers of Digital Humanitarianism, I discuss this change with Sean McDonald. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

Photo by Jannes Glas


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