Use as few rules as possible, mostly guidelines

Rules won’t solve your problems, but thinking about them might. To paraphrase a couple well-known quotes:

“Rules are useless, but thinking about rules is indispensable”

Dwight Eisenhower

“No rules survive first contact with a toddler”

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder


It’s folly to think we can generate the exact outcomes we want with rules. Every ruleset leaves more unstated assumptions than it generates clarity. The legalese found in contracts, and its absolute obtuseness, is testament to how hard it is to write clear rules.

That said, thinking about how rules, or a lack thereof, generate outcomes is an essential and worthwhile exercise. I like putting things through the lens of macroeconomic thinking to seek out second order effects, unintended consequences, and perverse incentives that emerge from a proposed rule set. Rules are trade-offs!

In short: humans + rules are a strange, not entirely mathematical thing. Think about how bad actors will abuse rules in their favor and how good actors will be constrained by rules in search of the outcomes you actually want. Then, if you must, write as few rules as possible.

Adam Keys @therealadam