Breaking the Rules
by Rick Brenner
Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
In the race to be the first to the South Pole, the two contenders were Robert Falcon Scott, of the Royal Navy, and Roald Amundsen of Norway. Scott had Royal sponsorship, but Amundsen had to persuade his backers of the commercial possibilities of his expedition.
These were the days before the Panama Canal, and the only shipping routes around the Americas were long and expensive. To make the investment in his expedition attractive, Amundsen told his backers that he was exploring the Arctic, which held much more commercial interest than did the Antarctic.
Just one thing — he was lying.
His true motive was to be the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen successfully misled everyone. He broke the rules.
Breaking the rules is sometimes the best way — sometimes the only way — to get things done. When we break the rules, and then fail, we can end up in deep yogurt. But when we break the rules and then later succeed, people sometimes overlook the transgression. And sometimes they don't.
When is rule breaking a useful strategy? What rules can we break safely? Here are some tips for breaking the rules.
- Old rules can be more breakable
- Older rules tend to be more breakable than newer rules. Sometimes the conditions that led to them no longer apply, and sometimes their chief architects have moved on.
- Of the older rules, those that are frequently applied tend to be the strongest. The old, dusty ones that lack constituencies tend to be the most breakable.
When we break the rules
and then later succeed,
people sometimes overlook
- We don't admit it, but goals count
- The end doesn't justify the means, but what people care about does matter. If the goal is attractive enough, people tend to look the other way when rules are broken.
- Break rules only when you're aiming for a goal people care about and you think your chances of achieving it are good.
- Stay within the law
- Breaking organizational rules is one thing. Breaking laws is another. Law breaking invites all kinds of consequences, and organizational benefits aren't likely to count for much.
- Be knowledgeable enough to stay within the law.
- Personal gain is a liability
- If you personally gain from your rule breaking, you're asking for trouble. Breaking the rules is much more likely to be acceptable if the organization is the principal beneficiary.
- Even better if your boss and the applicable rule enforcement unit are beneficiaries.
- Prepare to accept adverse consequences
- If you fail, and if you broke rules in the attempt, you might have to pay a price. The price can include organizational discipline, termination, or even "blacklisting" in your profession.
- Be certain that you're prepared to endure the consequences if the organization decides to take action.
Most important, rule breaking is a white-knuckle sport. Those who care passionately about achieving the goal have a definite edge. What are you prepared to do? Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Workplace Politics
- The Costs of Threats
- Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
- Worst Practices
- We hear a lot about best practices, but hardly anybody talks about worst practices. So as a public service, here are some of the best worst practices.
- How to Avoid Responsibility
- Taking responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable are the hallmarks of either a rising star in a high-performance organization, or a naïve fool in a low-performance organization. Either way, you must know the more popular techniques for avoiding responsibility.
- When It's Just Not Your Job
- Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
- How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: Part II
- Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time are intuitive users of Boyd's OODA model. Here's Part II of an exploration of how bullies use the model.
See also Workplace Politics and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact me for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- TBD, Mansfield, MA: August 21, Regional Event, PMI MassBay, PMI Central Mass, Ocean State PMI, PMI Keene, PMI Southern New England.