Here in the southern U.S. where I live, we’ve finally thawed out from a week of solid (pun intended) ice covering the roads and sidewalks, virtually shutting everyone in for almost a week. The freakishly strong storm and lasting arctic chill seemed to give people permission to break some rules – or at least create new ones – to help them both work and live better despite harsh conditions. 

People were walking a lot – cars were a definite disadvantage. Kids were playing in the middle of the street – no traffic and unplowed roads made it safer than icy sidewalks. Even organizations adapted to the storm, with corporate leaders switching meetings to conference calls, or canceling events that seemed important but in reality, they could do without.

For the average person, there are no rules for events like this. What is a rule, anyway? At its heart, a rule is “a principle or regulation, governing conduct, action, procedure, arrangement, etc.” To get through the storm and sort through the aftermath, people learned to play without rules.

Now that the ice has melted, I wonder which rules we’re following that no longer need to exist? We are experiencing storms every day in our workplaces and lives. Sometimes the storm is good in the long run, bringing down branches that needed to fall anyway. Sometimes the storm hurts, cutting off careers and livelihoods in its wake. The result is clear: to weather the storms, we must learn how to play without rules. 

So the question is “how?” Here are the three things I learned about how my neighbors and friends dealt with the storm and learned to play without rules:

1. They let themselves be creative.

Why did the ten-year-old have cardboard strapped to his feet like skis? “Because it was the best way to travel over the ice,” he said. On the third day of no classes, why did my working mom friend Linda surf a home-schooling website she’d never seen before? “Because I needed fresh ideas to keep the kids away from becoming vegetables.” 

No judgment, no apologies, just creative thinking and action. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t (Linda says her kids still got a little potato-like), but at least letting yourself be creative gets you moving forward – instead of waiting forever until someone tells you the new rules. 

2. They evaluated priorities – and chose wisely.

When all’s going well, we think we can do it all. Our back-to-back schedule will run as planned, our life will be smooth and effortless. And then the storm hits. 

When this storm hit, people re-evaluated quickly. Even when it was questionable what would happen Monday morning, people voted with their values Sunday night and realigned their priorities, canceling or rescheduling once seemingly-important commitments. Meetings that didn’t have to happen, didn’t. And the world continued to turn. 

3. They trusted themselves.

Later in the week, many people struggled with their offices opening for business, but their local roads still treacherous and public transport nonexistent. I heard stories of people trusting themselves to make the right decision, whether it was the Publix store manager who re-opened the closed supermarket for my friend Martha, or the dry cleaner who called his employees and told them to take a day off rather than risk their lives – and others’ – on the roads. Some people took extra vacation days, trusting it to be the right decision even though it meant fewer fun days-off later in the year. 

(As a side note, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, has one rule about tracking vacation days at his fast-growing movie distribution company. The rule is that there are no rules. In fact, Netflix does not track or limit vacation days; if you need some, you tell your manager. Hastings believes that you don’t need detailed policies for everything, especially if you trust your people and they trust themselves. Netflix HR lead Patty McCord is quoted as saying, “There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one has come to work naked lately.”)

What are the rules you’re still following? Are they the right ones – or has the game changed? Don’t wait for the next storm to hit – learn to play without rules, and start winning more.

January 2011

As the founder of Red Cape Revolution: Bring Your Superpowers to Work (, leadership & workplace coach and speaker Darcy Eikenberg helps committed, energetic professionals discover new ways to improve their experience at work, in ways that work for their organizations and for themselves.  When you join the Red Cape Revolution, you can access valuable tools such as our “How to Thrive in the New World of Work” ebook and other Tips & Scripts for real-life workplace challenges. Contact Darcy at or 404.313.0278.
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