Chaotic Lawfulness at Work

As of this writing I do not make my living via the board game industry. In truth, at this point board games better serve to empty my bank account, not contribute to it. Short of a miracle, that mostly likely won’t change. But as hobbies go, playing, researching, designing and pontificating about board games is a healthy mental exercise. At least it keeps me out of bars and most political discussions.

Twice a month at my day job as a Software QA Analyst I have one-on-one discussions with my manager. Through these meetings, I’m able to present to him my good, bad, and ugly observations concerning the department and my personal work performance. Given the amount of time I spend thinking about board games, it isn’t a surprise that many of my work observations are made through game culture colored glasses.

My latest board game flavored observation came after I got caught flatfooted at work. The software test process we are supposed to follow is:

  1. Write the test cases based on the feature requirements.
  2. Review the test cases with the development team and project management to verify test coverage.
  3. Execute test cases and report findings.

In a project meeting I reported that I had written my test cases and was going to set up the review when a fellow QA staffer interjected “heck, I’ve been testing for two days already”. Given our tight schedules, everyone on the team was happy to hear that testing was in flight. Everyone but me, that is.

I’m a rules guy. I derive comfort in the consistency, order, and predictability of rules. And I follow them to a fault. Ever wonder who stops at lonely stop signs on dark country roads late at night when it’s obvious there are no other cars for miles? Me. That’s who.

Now in the interest of full disclosure I have been known to exceed the speed limit – especially when I borrow my wife’s Mustang on a warm summer’s day. I’m not made of wood. But that said I’m usually not the guy in the passing lane. If the herd is going 5 or 10 miles over, I’m right there with them. Heck, going slower than traffic actually causes a hazardous situation… or so I tell myself.

But speeding is the exception. In practically every other aspect of life – especially at work – I’m straight as an arrow. And when a fellow QA Analyst not only breaks the process, but is lauded by the team for it, that gives me pause. Is my strict adherence to the law actually counterproductive?

After some reflection and putting my feelings into gaming terms, I realized that if real life was a Dungeons and Dragons campaign my alignment would be Lawful Good.

For the uninitiated, Dungeons and Dragons is the prototypical RPG and the “R” in RPG stands for “role”. In other words, when you play you’re not making your decisions based on your own personal sensibilities. You are more akin to an actor on stage where your decisions, opinions, choices, and even dialog are based on your role. The role in turn is an amalgam of your race (human, dwarf, elf, etc), class (fighter, wizard, etc), skills (running, jumping, climbing trees, etc) and perhaps the single most important piece of your personality: Alignment. Different RPGs handle this in different ways, but the classic alignments are:

  • Lawful Good – Predictable. They follow the rules (think Superman).
  • Chaotic Good – Unpredictable. They break the rules for the greater good (think John McClane from Die Hard).
  • Neutral – Self serving – They pick and choose the rules – good and bad – that best fit the situation (think Indiana Jones).
  • Chaotic Evil – Unpredictable, unplanned, Anarchy (think Batman’s nemesis The Joker).
  • Lawful Evil – Planned out, evil with a purpose (think Hans Gruber, Die Hard).

In my career, I have been fortunate not to deal directly with any truly Evil characters. They are out there – like the guy who purchased the drug patent and then jacked up the price 700%. That’s textbook Lawful Evil. No, the worst I’ve dealt with personally is Neutral management. As in, sorry we’re laying you off, but it’s nothing personal, just business.

I would classify my co-worker, the one that bent the rules and started testing two days early, as Chaotic Good. She was outside of the standards, but she did so for the good of the project and the good of the schedule. Her heart was in the right place.

My heart was in the right place as well – I simply saw the world a different way. The rules exist for a reason, and if you ignore them, chaos ensues. To me it couldn’t be more black and white.

To his credit, when I explained to my manger this situation using these admittedly geeky terms, he rolled with it. He saw my point for upholding the standards even after admitting that he personally fell into the Chaotic Good camp. His personal challenge is that as management, he’s forced into playing a Lawful Good role (creating and enforcing the rules) while his personal inclination is more Chaotic where he wants do whatever needs to be done as long as it supports the Good.

So I asked him, “which is better?”. Would he rather manage a team of Lawful Good or Chaotic Good employees? His response was that as long as his team strives to do Good, whether they stay within the lines or occasionally stray outside of them, is fine with him.

Then I asked him if he thought my Lawful Good alignment was holding me back or otherwise negatively impacting my career. He said it wasn’t as far as he was concerned, but he couldn’t speak for my previous managers. Some managers like out of the box thinkers, others consider them loose cannons. He suggested that in the future for me to play to the situation. If you are Lawful Good and your manager rewards Chaotic Good, consider pivoting to that alignment. If it’s too far outside your comfort zone, finding a new job may be in order. But if you pull it off, your new alignment malleability will serve you well throughout the rest of your career.

© 2017 Robert S. Moyer, All Rights Reserved