Order versus Creativity, excerpt from Breadcrumbs: Finding a Philosophy of Life by William F. Merck II

January 6, 2023

Order versus Creativity

William F. Merck II, Author, Leader, Speaker

by William F. Merck II

On Book Excerpts | Philosophy
Existing rules should not paralyze your creative thinking as you face new or changing circumstances.

Coloring books are an early experience that most young people go through pitting discipline and order against creativity. In the first encounter with this activity, children color everywhere, including encroaching over the lines of the drawing. Once the basic concepts of applying crayons to the drawings and using imagination to choose the colors are set, kids are taught to keep their coloring within the lines provided. Praise accompanies learning to stay within the lines and withheld—maybe even accompanied by an adult’s frown—when the coloring is outside of the lines. Staying within the lines instills a sense of correctness and order in the young artists.

In addition to learning discipline with coloring, there are lots of games children learn to play. Most have boundaries that must be observed, much like the coloring lines they were taught to stay within. In the simple game of hopscotch, a grid is drawn on the sidewalk or ground. If a line is stepped on as the player hops through the grid, then their turn is over! In a footrace on an oval track with lanes, stepping over the line into another lane is a disqualifying event. In swimming competitions, straying outside an assigned swim lane results in disqualification. 

The World of Rules

This is the indoctrination into thinking of life’s various boundaries and limits. Children who try to get around rules by cheating or lying are scolded, further instilling the need to adhere to proscribed boundaries.

When you become an adult, and coloring books and children’s games are left behind, you are still expected to “color within the lines” in ever new and more complex boundaries facing you in everyday life. Some of the boundaries are clear while others are subject to interpretation. For instance, streets and roads have painted lines that come with driving laws you must abide by. Checkout lanes are designated in stores where you shop. These restrictions are simple and clear. Then, there are some boundaries set in law that are fairly straightforward, while other perceived infractions end up in court with judges or juries deciding whether, and to what extent, a boundary was illegally crossed.

Organized religions set rules, or boundaries, for their believers to follow. As with the law, some of these rules are straightforward and others not so much. You are inundated with rules, regulations, and boundaries to guide your life. The coloring book was only the beginning. All of this is necessary to prevent chaos in society, and I understand and support such practices. However, I am mindful that living in the world of rules can stifle creative thinking. Stifle, yes, but it does not prevent it. You need creative thinking to improve your life and to adapt to changes in your social and physical environments. This means you need to encourage creative thinking concurrent with teaching and understanding the importance of boundaries.

You need creative thinking to improve your life.

You can accept that rules and boundaries are necessary but remember they are there to control aberrant behavior. Existing rules should not paralyze your creative thinking as you face new or changing circumstances.

History has shown that laws and boundaries are useful and necessary to allow for a civil society that is absent of an intolerable level of chaos. But what will you do when you find yourself in a situation where you believe the right thing to do involves breaking the law or a religious taboo?

After you leave your childhood innocence behind and enter the world of adult reality, conflicts will occur between what you sincerely believe is an action you must take and what you suspect or know will bring you afoul of a law.

Developing Curiosity by William F. Merck, II.
Quote by author William F. Merck II

Will you break the law?

A simple example is a situation where you must transport a person in a critical situation to a hospital because you are not in a position to wait for an ambulance to provide transport. You decide to drive the patient yourself. The time you spend driving is a critical factor in their survival. Will you “break the law” by exceeding the speed limit? Probably so.

In a work situation, if you are aware of an imminent life safety situation, will you break a rule or violate a law to rectify the situation before someone is injured or killed? I hope so, even if you might be sanctioned for your action because you “colored outside of the lines.” These are only a few examples of the decisions you might face that go against years of conditioning to conform—conditioning that began in early childhood.

Excerpt from my book, Breadcrumbs, Finding a Philosophy of Life.


BREADCRUMBS: Finding a Philosophy of Life

In Bill’s new book released on March 14, 2023, the author uses stories from his life’s journey to illustrate points in time that helped form his view of the world and his place in it. From growing up in Southern Georgia in the 1940s, to becoming a military officer and a corporate leader, he discovers a nexus between early feelings and subsequent notions and beliefs.

On Philosophy



So, You Want to Be a LEADER

Being a leader is not easy for anyone. Thankfully, this book transforms more than a half-century of leadership experiences into a practical handbook for those looking to excel in leadership roles. In candid fashion, So, You Want to Be a Leader: Secrets of a Lifetime of Success, reveals what works—along with an unvarnished examination of what doesn’t—in a myriad of work-related situations.

On Leadership