NASA Headquarters is hosting a holiday door-decorating contest for the first time in years. The rules posted about the contest only covered use (or non-use) of lights and candles. Before starting, we checked if any other unwritten rules existed about the contest.
After all, isn’t it always the “unwritten rules” that bite us?
You know what I’m talking about. Those pesky unwritten rules in the workplace, like:
- good workers stay late to get the job done…or
- taking time off to attend a child’s ball game shows lack of job commitment…or
- anyone who speaks up in meetings wants attention….or
- anyone who doesn’t speak up in meetings adds no value.
Unwritten rules are like little unseen trip wires.
So we checked to see what wasn’t written in the rules for the door contest, asking these questions:
- can we “mimic” a door where no door exists (much easier than wrapping a door while people try to go in and out), and
- can we “color outside the lines” (i.e. violate the door frame shape)?
The vision in my head was bigger than what would fit on the door itself. One of our NASA Exchange Council folks came up to look at the space we wanted to decorate. She checked with the Council (since the rules didn’t cover what we wanted to do). Their answers?
- No, and
At first, I was totally bummed. Looking at the question of intent, I had to ask: Is the contest about a decorated door…or the festive holiday spirit created by the decorations? Then it hit me: the door contest rules exist for color-inside-the-lines thinkers. The lines bring order. Security. Comfort. I get it. I really do.
But, for those of us who never learned to color inside the lines, rules just get in the way of the things we want to do, the places we want to go, and experiences awaiting us there.
Do you think explorers through the centuries cared about coloring INside the lines…or even staying on the same page?
What we do at NASA doesn’t fit inside the lines. We send space ships and human explorers out beyond the safe borders of our atmosphere. I’d say that’s coloring outside the lines, wouldn’t you?
Yes, rules exist for a purpose. We respect the rules of physics every day. But think about it. Creative solutions don’t always fit inside predetermined lines. Now, do they?
Long story short: we decorated after all. No, the effort won’t be eligible for the holiday door-decorating competition. But, does that really matter if we meet the intent: creating a festive workplace?
Here’s the result: our new retro-rocket tableau. Totally outside the lines. Don’t you think?