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Governing Constraint

Governing constraints are applied when a system demonstrates traits that contradict the overall goals it intends to realize. Governing constraints are far-reaching, controversial, immutable, and often difficult to change once applied. Governing constraints in human systems are most often used to mitigate behaviors possible by those participating in the human system. Typically governing constraints are designed by those that are in a position of highest system authority or take the most significant portion of responsibility for the well-being and general accuracy a given system has towards tracking its more significant objectives.

Leaders may also apply governing constraints when their general knowledge around a given subject matter is unclear, or they need to mitigate further events from occurring until they have had the time to gather data and make an educated decision on how to respond to a given event. Typically these types of governing constraints are most relevant when the general system is experiencing higher than normal levels of chaos or entropy is increasing. This type of Governing Constraint might be its classification of constraint, the Temporary Governing Constraint (I will draw up a better name, assuming it is necessary). It might be essential to give these types of Governing Constraints a label for succinctness.

In the technology field, we see governing constraints applied frequently depending on the general objectives and education of the human system maintaining the organization. For instance, there is a wide range of emotional responses to the idea that someone will change the programming behind an application and release it to the public to use. There are those personalities that would prefer to make no changes at all for the sake of leaving well enough alone, there are those that crave change for the sake of seeing something new happen, and there are those that don’t understand their world enough to have an opinion. There is a tight correlation to core motivating factors, the movement towards joy or the avoidance of pain, which will be described elsewhere.

Later we will discuss the application of governing constraints to a technical organization. There are plenty of stories.

Exercise: Identify Governing Constraints in your organization or current environment.

Tip: Governing constraints will often feel like they lack room for negotiation or compromise. Governing Constraints may invoke “rule-breaking.”


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