I believe we disrespect exceptional circumstances in two significant ways.
Failing to respect the cumulative effect of related exceptions
A few years ago I was watching what I ate and I thought I was watching very carefully. However, I wasn’t getting the results I was hoping for. It took me longer than it should have to realise the source of the problem. I allowed myself – what I thought at the time was – a limited set of exceptions, during which I would allow myself to eat as I liked. Friday nights, when visiting family or friends, or the occasional pub lunch with work colleagues. When I finally caught up I realised that my exceptions were occurring cumulatively 4-5 times a week. I had more exceptional days than non-exceptional days! This example is pretty trivial but since becoming aware of this phenomena I’ve spotted it elsewhere, in less obvious circumstances.
Abusing exceptions to shuck the rules
I don’t know about you but I’ve spotted a worrying trend. Often there are rules or at least guidelines or heuristics that we follow to govern our behaviour: be it abstaining from alcohol or chocolate, or raising a change request, or sticking to a speed limit or whatever. It’s become quite easy to say in certain contexts ‘sure, I/we would usually do that but…’. Often this is done to avoid following the rules due to personal aspects (too tired, not motivated, too distracted) or properties of the rules themselves (too vague, too challenging), rather than to actually benefit the situation.
Path to Awesome
Be alert – track and monitor exceptions
Be honest – regularly review rules/guidelines for suitability – if they’re broken change them, if they’re not broken stick to them!
What do you think? Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.