Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 40;   October 4, 2006:

Breaking the Rules

by

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?
The Fram, Amundsen's ship

Fram, which bore the Amundsen expedition to Antarctica. Photo courtesy ArticIce.org's Hall of Arctic Explorers.

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.
We don't admit it, but goals count
When we break the rules
and then later succeed,
people sometimes overlook
the transgression
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? Go to top Top  Next issue: Assumptions and the Johari Window: II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.comSend 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.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

The Dalles of the St. Croix RiverThe Politics of the Critical Path: II
The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience the unique politics of the critical path.
A member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008How to Stop Being Overworked: I
If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to it, or at least, lighten the load.
A dead Manchurian AshWorkplace Politics and Type III Errors
Most job descriptions contain few references to political effectiveness, beyond the fairly standard collaborate-to-achieve-results kinds of requirements. But because true achievement often requires political sophistication, understanding the political content of our jobs is important.
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (1865-1937) was a German general and politicianBackstabbing
Much of what we call backstabbing is actually just straightforward attack — nasty, unethical, even evil, but not backstabbing. What is backstabbing?
It certainly has not been a good dayGrace Under Fire: III
When someone at work seems intent on making your work life a painful agony, you might experience fear, anxiety, or stress that can lead to a loss of emotional control. Retaining composure is in that case the key to survival.

See also Workplace Politics and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tennis balls on a tennis court. Your fitness program can be a part of your job search.Coming July 28: Be Choosier About Job Offers: II
An unfortunate outcome of job searches occurs when a job seeker feels forced to accept an offer that isn't a good fit. Sometimes financial pressures are so severe that the seeker has little choice. But financial pressures are partly perceptual. Here's how to manage feeling that pressure. Available here and by RSS on July 28.
A beach at sunsetAnd on August 4: What Are the Chances: I
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not. Available here and by RSS on August 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Join the Organizational Politics Group at LinkedIn.comJoin the Office Politics, Workplace Politics and Organizational Politics discussion group at LinkedIn.com, the premier professional networking Web site.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.