Management Tactic #13: The Freedom of Limitations

Whenever I go home to Virginia, I play pickup soccer with my father.

His pickup game is played on a real soccer field with marked sidelines and goals. We play 11 or 12 people per side, and people generally spread out across the field.

I always walk away from the Virginia pickup game feeling like I played on a huge field. But I played on that size of field every day growing up; it hasn’t changed in size. What has changed, I wondered recently.

Comparing the Virginia game with my regular St. Louis game, I’ve figured out the difference. In my local pickup game, we usually end up with about 8 or 9 people per side on a field that’s 60-70 yards long. The ratio is about the same as the Virginia game.

But the biggest difference is that we don’t play on a marked field. The sidelines are…well, they’re not there. We just play until we hit the parking lot or the next game over. There’s no defined line.

As a result, the game ends up being much tighter. Our brains can’t calculate the amount of free room that we have, so we tend to err on the side of caution and gravitate toward the middle of the field. As a result, the game feels much smaller.

Without the limitations of the marked field, the St. Louis game is tighter. We’re less free in that game.

This oxymoron is so interesting to me, so I’ve been looking for examples in the business world. Today I stumbled upon one during a meeting. Someone mentioned their frustrations about the budget at the CSC where we work. Namely, that we don’t have budgets. So if you’re running a program, the general rule is that you keep frugality in mind and buy what you need to make it happen. But there are no specific limits for programs or events or ministries.

The person’s frustration was that she wanted those limitations. She wanted to know how much money she had left so that she could have the freedom to spend it if necessary.

This may seem counterintuitive, but I see her point. If you’re not given a budgetary limitation, you have to create imaginary restrictions instead. As a result, you feel less free to do what you need to make a certain program or event a success.

The lesson? Mark your fields and define your budgets!

Where have you experienced this phenomenon?

Daily Quickie: The photo above is Biddy examining a box of Stegmaier beer that my best friend Trev brought me back from Kentucky. It’s very difficult to get Stegmaier beer (and yes, I’m distantly related) because few states are authorized to import it from Pennsylvania where it’s made. But Trev went out of his way to find out that Kentucky didn’t have those import regulations (apparently they like to drink awesome beer in Kentucky) and ordered some for me while he was there. If you’ve never gotten a box of beer with your name on it, you’re missing out. It’s the best thing ever.