Once upon a time I worked for a small company that needed to fill a key position in one of its departments. The chair of the search committee told us that a person had been identified through personal contacts and she would like to bring the guy in for an interview. Since the candidate was a recent graduate of an elite school with practical experience in the field and excellent recommendations from respected professionals, he did look like the perfect fit. But there was catch: We had to move fast and make an offer the guy could not refuse (no mafia pun intended) before he went on the open job market and was tempted by more glamorous and better-paying career opportunities at much larger firms than ours.
As we were about to approve the motion, a colleague of mine raised a valid objection---not about the candidate but about the process of the selection itself. His argument boiled down to the fact that any organization larger than a nuclear family needs to be guided by time-tested rules based on firmly held principles rather than ad hoc decisions taken for the sake of expediency. The ensuing discussion reminded me of my favorite TV drama, which portrays an eccentric, abrasive, misanthropic, politically incorrect genius doctor whose job is to diagnose the most unusual cases. Gregory House (the medical version of Sherlock Holmes) often clashes with the hospital ethics commission for not following established procedures. I have always seen him as a hero since his breaking of the rules allows him to save lives. But is it possible that Dr. House is a villain in disguise? After all, if every medical practitioner followed his example, only patients with very rare atypical symptoms will have a chance to survive their visits to the hospital.
It is true that by acting outside the ordinary channels of advertising the job opening and reviewing all candidates we could have saved resources and struck gold attracting an extremely gifted and motivated person to our team. But my colleague's words made me realize that such precedents could easily corrupt any institution, creating an environment of cronyism and preventing us in the future from hiring the best people for each position. It took me back to my student days when I first studied the case for "a government of laws and not of men" (laid in 1780 as a foundational principle for the Massachusetts Constitution by John Adams) made by John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu. And whether we work in a small firm, a parliament, or a central bank, we should heed the council of these two great political philosophers of the Enlightenment.