The Law of the Loaf

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The ancient Romans had a genius for organizing. The Roman Army was one example.

It was not only a powerful and effective military force but its organization is still with us in most of our companies. And the Romans found elegant ways to solve little everyday problems.

Here’s one example. The Army allotted a single loaf of bread as the daily ration for two soldiers. Each one got half a loaf.

Obviously, for the soldiers to eat, someone would have to cut the loaf into two pieces. Also obviously, human nature would kick in and both soldiers would want the larger of the two chunks.

This could be a volatile situation. After all, a soldier who was angry because his partner had gotten a bigger chunk of their common loaf was not good for morale or team spirit. In the worst case, the angry soldier was armed and trained in the use of his weapons.

The Roman solution to this was simple. One soldier would divide the loaf into two pieces. The other soldier would pick the piece he wanted.

There were no extensive regulations on how to divide the loaf. There was no manual describing exactly what constituted a half loaf. There were no laws about what would happen to a soldier who cheated his partner. There was no training in loaf division. There was just a simple rule.

Think about the Law of the Loaf the next time you’re tempted to draft long, complex regulations or instructions to deal with an issue in your organization. The best rules are simple to understand, simple to follow, and use human nature as a self-regulating force.

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