One thing Nicolas Tesla, Richard Branson,Tony Stark, and all great titans of industry have in common is this: they were able to identify rules that don’t exist and had the courage to break them, says Jason Kotecki in Penguins Can't Fly: +39 Other Rules That Don't Exist:
History is filled with examples of those who profited greatly by dispensing with so-called “rules”:
@henryford: Thou shalt manufacture thy goods one at a time. #notarule.
@waltdisney: Audiences shalt not sit though a feature-length animated movie. #notarule
@browniewise: House parties are no place for selling. #tupperware #notarule
@stevejobs: Computers shalt be beige. #notarule
@netflix: Thou must charge late fees in order to get customers to return movies. #notarule
@rockybalboa: Thou shalt not train for a boxing match by punching meat. #notarule
We don't do things the way we've always done them, and we appreciate -- at least intellectually -- how perpetuating the status quo is no longer the best option:
Although the status quo may feel safe, it’s the most dangerous place to be. In a landscape changing faster than ever, rule breaking is a requirement. The ones who keep doing things the way they’ve always done them are in for a rude awakening, and possibly early extinction.
Going against the grain can be a scary proposition. Fear of scorn, or worse failure can keep us from breaking the rules or bringing to life entirely new experiences. Kotecki suggests there are seven rules we should break:
1. Waiting for permission from your boss before doing something awesome
Your boss, banker, or board of directors may not get your vision when you tell it to them. Try showing them instead.
2. Not having too much fun at work
We are in a war against Adultitis. Especially at work. Putting googly eyes on inanimate objects, decorating your cube for Halloween, and making cupcakes for coworkers are some of the weapons we have on our side. Too bad some people prefer keeping them locked away.
[...] Burnout can be easily resolved. But it requires leaders who see power in bringing fun to the workplace and are smart enough to understand that having a little fun in no way diminishes the seriousness in which one takes his or her responsibility.
3. Only doing things at scale
I remember when I was first starting out, I tried to do everything I could to appear bigger than I was. As I yearned for credibility, I was downplaying some of my best advantages, the very ones ginormous companies would die for. Namely, the ability to listen, be nimble, and do things that don’t scale. Like sending handwritten thank you notes to every single customer. No, this isn’t scalable when you have hundreds of thousands of customers. But it’s just the thing that can energize a group of early adopters, the very people who will tell you what about your product or service works and what doesn’t, and will sing your praises to everyone they know.
4. Determining a thing’s importance by how easily it can be measured
[...] who can accurately measure how profoundly a soul has been moved? Or the precise generational impact of a tool that empowers an individual to lift themselves out of poverty? It’s much easier to calculate the things that are easily measured—like last quarter’s profits—and assume everything else takes care of itself. At best, this technique only provides part of the story. At worst, it can lead us down some bad roads.
The answers to questions like “how many contracts did we sign?,” “how many locations are we in?,” and “how much did we spend on advertising?” are easily calculated. Many of us spend the majority of our time monitoring those stats while assuming that our efforts spent to improve them will result in a corresponding uptick in the quality of our story.
5. Letting others define your success
As the old adage goes, be careful that you don’t spend your life climbing the ladder of success only to find, once you reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. In order to avoid this, the first step is to figure out what game you want to play. Step two: play that game as well as you can. Step three: don’t be distracted by people playing a different game.
6. Being realistic
If a dream is realistic, it’s not really a dream. It’s a to-do. If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big. And if you’re ever accused of dreaming too big, then you can rest assured that you’re on the right track. Just pretend you’re a long lost member of the Wright clan. Don’t be realistic. And be very, very cautious about what you label as “impossible.”
7. Not letting your princess dress get wet
Our “princess dress” is the carefully-curated version of ourself that we show off to others. It’s the way we look, speak, and act. It’s our degree and our job title, our home and hairstyle, our cars, clothes, and 401ks, all wrapped into one pretty package and tied with a bow that signifies that we are responsible, sophisticated, and successful. In order to keep this princess dress looking good, we must live a life of restraint.
[...] We are given countless opportunities to dive headfirst in to the experience of life, but we are too afraid to mess up our hair, our clothes, or our reputation. Because running through puddles, making a mess, or doing something silly for the sheer sake of fun sullies the dress we’ve worked so hard to preserve.
Kotecki lists some methods we can use to get better at spotting the rules:
1. Start a practice project like a personal journal, with the challenge of listing one #notarule each day
2. Take advantage of newbies like new hires, or employees who’ve been recently promoted to a new position or department and are not yet indoctrinated to the ways we do things here
3. Who are your heroes in business and life? If they experienced any measure of success, you can bet they broke at least a few rules that didn’t exist. Analyze what they were and see if there are any lessons you can learn
4. Look outside one’s immediate sphere of influence -- Peanuts creator Charles Schulz looked for ideas at bookstores by roaming the sections he rarely visited
5. How do other professionals in your field do things? How are companies in your industry supposed to operate? What are the absolute givens? Make a list of at least 50 of them
To get better at breaking rules, we should get real with risk, tinker more, increase the number of people involved in providing feedback, and practice with things that matter less.