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Years ago, a friend and I were getting ready for a black-tie event. She was to wear a lovely form-fitting
cocktail dress with a pair of body
shaping control-top pantyhose.
We were amused to discover the
hose came with instructions. They
amounted to: Sit down. Hold tights
with your thumbs. Slip in one foot.
Stretch the material up leg. Repeat
with other leg. Stand up.
For hours, we could not stop
laughing. We imagined the poor
technical writer charged with crafting
these instructions after a customer
somehow twisted themselves in a
life-threatening human pretzel when
putting on the hose.
We have all seen these types of
rules and instructions. Painfully self-evident steps that insultingly spell out
the obvious. Should self-evident and
unspoken rules be written down? I
never thought so.
I think of known social rules. It
should be obvious that when in an
elevator, lavatory or subway, give
others space. When speaking to
someone, don’t crowd them. Be aware
of the direction of your gaze when
conversing. Flip flops and swimsuits
are not appropriate work attire except
for lifeguards. When putting on
pantyhose, do so one leg at a time.
These are the unspoken rules,
implied by living in a civilized and
decent society. Logical assumptions.
Lately, I’ve had to revisit my
thinking on this. Rules self evident to
me appear to be not so self evident to
others. Rules seem to be deliberately
mined for gaps of which to take
We need not look further than one
of the most important rule books, the
U.S. Constitution. Recent queries on
the breadth of presidential pardoning
power highlighted that the founders
likely did not consider the possibility of
a sitting president pardoning himself of
a potential crime.
It likely wasn’t seen as a gap in the
rules. It was unthinkable. But this very
gap has the potential of splitting apart
the idea of democracy itself if not
constrained by “due process.”
Should this gap act as a swift
reminder for organizations to write
down more of their implied rules?
Make the unwritten, written?
Having worked with many
organizations in the risk management,
governance and compliance areas
over my career, I noted that the
organizations with the least compliance
breaches and the highest morale
valued detailed written policies and
It may have meant a grueling
obligation for new hires, reading and
signing off on all those policies and
procedures. But as onerous as it was,
it led to successful governance in the
Written rules and laws need to
be continually updated to seal gaps
and avoid exploitation of the implied.
This is needed to control audacious
opportunists with skewed social
correctness. It seems a rule for some
doesn’t exist if it’s not written down. &
JOANNA MAKOMASKI is a specialist in
innovative enterprise risk management
methods and implementation techniques.
She can be reached at email@example.com.
BY JOANNA MAKOMASKI