Tag Archives: punishment

Legislation for the Few

Have you ever stopped to consider where most of our laws, rules, restrictions and requirements come from?  Most of them were created to protect the many from the few.  In other words, most legislation (be it from a government or the Compliance department) is put into place to protect the many law-abiders from the few law-breakers.

I get it; it makes sense to me.  And I think many rules and laws are necessary.  But haven’t we taken it a little too far?  Sometimes we create so many rules and regs that we end up punishing the many just to restrict the few from their rule-breaking tendencies.  Once a rule is created, it ties the hands of everyone, not just the unruly rule-breakers.

Take this example from Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow:
“At Brock’s Restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut, here’s what it says on the menu (in large type):


Consider what prompted this sign to be posted.  Restaurant management noticed some people piling on salad selections and then sharing them with their friends and family members.  How often do you suppose this happened?  How much do you suppose it actually cost the restaurant in salad losses?  I would wager that a month’s worth of salad stealing didn’t cost that restaurant more than one to two hundred dollars in actual losses (and I think I’m being generous).

Now, consider how many honest and conscientious salad patrons read that message.  How many of them do you think were irked by it?  How many of them left with a lower opinion of the restaurant than they had when they arrived?  How much bad publicity has that sign generated since being published by a nationally best-selling author?

Finally, think about the relatively small percentage of dishonest customers who dine at this restaurant.  Do you think the sign was a sufficient deterrent to prevent them from salad-stealing?  How many customers who had never thought of stealing salad now considered it after being introduced to the idea by the sign?

To quote an old proverb, the restaurant is “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”  They are punishing the many to catch the few, and they probably aren’t catching the few anyway.

Seth Godin continues…
“Compare this to the wine policy at a restaurant called Frontière. The owner puts an open bottle of wine on every table, and at the end of the meal you tell the waiter how many glasses you consumed. The honor system.

Which is more worthy of positive comment? Marketing benefits aside, which leads to more incremental profit? (Hint: Two glasses of wine pay for a whole bottle at wholesale!)”

Both restaurants talk about an “honor system.”  The second restaurant demonstrates theirs.  Relying on the best of human nature, they put their money where their mouth is.  Sure, they will experience losses from dishonest people, but the losses won’t be anything compared to the positive press the restaurant gets for its sign of good faith.

Am I saying that we should get rid of rules and regs?  Not at all.  I’m saying, before you create a rule to govern the activities of your team or your customers or your kids (or anyone, for that matter), think hard.  What percentage of people is this rule intended to protect us from?  What percentage of honest, well-meaning people will be punished by it?  Could you better manage the behavior of the rule-breaking few by dealing with them directly?  Is the risk associated with the rule-breaking manageable?  In other words, can you live with the consequences of having a small percentage that are not in compliance?

Sometimes the cure is more expensive than the disease.  Maybe the problem isn’t worth solving.  Count the cost before you legislate.


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Filed under Abundance, grace, Interpersonal, Marketing


Start with a cage containing five monkeys.  Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.  Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.  Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.  Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.  The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.  To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.  After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.  The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.  The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.  The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.  Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.  Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.  Why not?   Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been around here.

Put people together for a long enough time, and we will repeat the illustration of the monkeys.  Seasoned veterans indoctrinate the up and comers.  While this process can save us time and wasted effort in meaningless pursuits, it can also kill creativity, innovation and ambition.  The up and comers are encouraged and pressured not to even try for new goals and new ways of doing things, because of the obstacles and failures experienced by the seasoned veterans.

TTWWADI (“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”) spells death to the spark of innovation and creativity that newcomers often bring.  TTWWADI spells a sometimes dangerous conformity.  If you’re a seasoned veteran, don’t be so quick to pick up the hose the next time one of the new monkeys reaches for the banana.

(NOTE: No monkeys were harmed during research for this article.)

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Filed under Change, comfort zone, culture, Fear, Group dynamics, group think, innovation, learned helplessness, paradigm, social faux pas

Fig Leaves

Genesis 3:7 tells us that Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness after their sin.  To cover themselves, they sewed fig leaves together and wore them.  This seems an expecially unfortunate choice, since fig leaves are rough and induce painful itching.

But isn’t this just like us?  When we sin, we try to hide our shame by beating ourselves up.  We practice negative self-talk, we kick ourselves, we acknowledge that we are terrible Christians.  Some even go so far as to chastise themselves physically.

God never tells us to beat ourselves up after we sin.  He tells us to return to Him.  But instead, we hide in the bushes, making God come after us.  Why do we do it?  You can bet that Satan has a big part to play in it.  He is the accuser, and we listen to him far too often.  Another reason is that we don’t understand God’s grace.  We mistrust it.  We can’t believe that God could really forgive us with no strings attached.  Surely we have to do some penance.  “God will forgive me if…”

We’ve also learned that some self-flagellation will go a long way to changing public opinion about us.  We know that we will be judged by the sins we commit, so we seek to lesson the criticism by doing some of the punishment ourselves.  It’s a pretty good strategy, actually.  People are less quick to dogpile if they see that a beating is already being administered.

Benefits aside, God wants us to come to Him in our nakedness when we sin.  No covering.  No self-disciplining.  Just us, admitting we were wrong and asking for God’s forgiveness.  Adam and Eve had it exactly backwards.  They prolonged their suffering by hiding from God.

When God found them in the garden in their sin, He replaced their covering with His.  His covering involved sacrifice.  An innocent animal had to die to pay for their sins.  Its blood covered their sin, and its hide covered their bodies.  God was demonstrating how they would now have to live in order to maintain a relationship with Him, and He was showing them how He would eventually solve the problem of sin forever. The death of an animal is a picture of Christ’s death on the cross.  His blood covers both our sin and our spiritual nakedness.

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Filed under agape love, christianity, Covering, guilt, Religion, sin, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Substitution, Suffering, unconditional love