Rule Breaker

Rule Breaker

March 17, 2012

It’s March Madness season, as any college basketball fan is well aware.  In fact, Marc and I just finished watching the Xavier vs. Notre Dame match-up.  It was a huge upset.  In the last eight seconds of the game, the ref called an accurate but largely ridiculous foul on Notre Dame for a lane violation that the commentators had to re-watch at least four times to even identify.  Charles Barkley, in recapping the game, said something like, “I don’t care what the rules say, no ref should have the power to decide a game when it is on the line.  Those guys busted their humps and for a game to be called on a ludicrous call like that is a disgrace.”

Last week, I boarded a flight bound for Washington DC.  As I stepped into the plane, the flight attendant shuddered, cast her eyes downward and shook her head.  “Ma’am,” she said, “I cannot let you onto this plane with those bags the way they are.  You may only bring two bags onboard.  Please step off the aircraft and consolidate your carry-ons.”  Seriously?  Turns out that I had pulled out my purse from my backpack during the three hours that Frontier inexplicably delayed the flight.  I was going to take up exactly the same amount of space, but that third piece was a rule violation that, though the flight was less than half full, the attendant simply could not let me get away with.

In the new bestseller, The Startup of You, by LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman , and his co-author, Ben Casnocha, spend part of a chapter on a topic they call, “Navigate Status Dynamics When Dealing with Powerful People,” in which they say, “If you want to maintain relationships with busy powerful people, you have to pay special attention to the role of status.”  They go on to say, “You won’t read about status in most business and career books,” claiming that because it’s a dog-eat-dog sort of world in business, one must be prepared to play the game – especially if interested in interacting with people more powerful than oneself.  There’s some credence to their line of discussion, but mostly, I’m not so sure.  If you want to get to know someone, if they are willing to take the networking meeting, does status really play that significant a role?  In my experience, the answer is, “no.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about rules.  In particular, I wonder why some rules exist at all.  Sometimes, it seems more appropriate to break the rules, to eschew conventional wisdom and find new, better, more innovative ways of doing things… to create solutions, to create jobs, to create the future, that’s what seems most appropriate.  In this regard, I hope more people will consider breaking rules.  I, for one, have never really been satisfied with the answer, “we do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” 

I recall, several years ago, applying for a job for which I had to complete a personality assessment.  There were a lot of questions about breaking rules.  It asked whether I saw myself as a rule-follower or rule-breaker.  Always the good girl, I started down the path of rule-follower.  But, I must admit, as the questions continued, I made a shocking discovery… I am a rule breaker!  Oh my!

Please know, I don’t think that I am “above the law” or that I should receive some sort of exemption or special treatment.  But, there are times when I find some of the rules to be… well… silly.  In those moments, I tend to break rules. 

In their popular business book, First, Break All the Rules:  What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, illustrate how great managers share very little in common with one exception:  They tend to break rules and are succeeding – and helping their companies to succeed from so doing.  I so appreciate the authors’ acknowledge that, while some rules must always be followed (e.g. safety and regulatory related rules), others are made to be broken in order to make advances in business… in technology… in all types of innovation. 

Here’s the thing… in someone else’s house… in someone else’s office… on someone else’s time, you might consider, within reason, following their rules lest you seem rude.  And, when it comes to safety and security, there are often (but not always) really good reasons to follow the rules.  However, given the sheer “ridiculousity” of some rules, I suggest that you go out on a limb, try something new, apologize later.