Deliberate Disobedience

Some friends and I do regular boardgame nights. Our favorite is Tichu. The first few times we played we got the rules wrong: we thought certain plays were legal but they weren’t. By playing more, studying the rules, and Googling the edge cases, we eventually got the rules right. We played the right way for a long time! But after years of doing it by the book we came to agree that one of the rules made the game worse. So collectively we decided to ignore it! And we’ve been enjoying Tichu immensely ever since.

Our understanding of Tichu followed this progression:

  1. Fail to follow the rules because we don’t know them.
  2. Strictly follow the rules.
  3. Deeply understand the rules and deliberately disobey the one we don’t like.

Though we aren’t following the rules in either the first or third cases, the reasons why are quite different. #1 comes from a lack of understanding while #3 comes from an abundance of it. I’ve seen this pattern elsewhere.


Software developers have no shortage of guidelines to follow spanning all aspects of our craft. Some favorites are Effective Java, Google’s Java Style Guidelines, and the Material Design guidelines.

I’m confident in my understanding of both Effective Java & the Java Style guidelines. And so I break these rules when I think it’s appropriate. Recently I even encouraged disobediance with a post “ignore the strict naming conventions!” because I’ve internalized that rule and know it’s too strict.

I’m not as confident with the Material Design guidelines. I don’t understand the nuances of elevation. I don’t know when to use ‘paper’ and when to use ‘ink’. A lack of confidence means that when I’m implementing Material design stuff I don’t improvise. Instead I follow the documentation strictly and hope I don’t miss anything.


I’m a self-interested individual that pays taxes.

My #1 instinct is to ignore my financial incentives and vote my values.

I study the competing policies as in #2, and learn that voting my values is a bad idea. I’d be subject to tax increases if the corresponding parties came to power. So I should vote for my financial self-interest.

Coming full circle to #3, I can understand the potential tax and policy consequences of my vote. With eyes wide open I can choose to elect a party that might tax me more. There are things more important than money, right?

Break the Rules

The best way to break the rules is with a full understanding of those rules.