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 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.
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. More info
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Reactance and Micromanagement
- When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden,
or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain
some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
- Deceptive Communications at Work
- Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also
understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication.
One form of abusive communication is deception.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- Career Opportunity or Career Trap: II
- When an opportunity seems too good to be true, it might be. Although we easily decline small opportunities,
declining an enticing career opportunity can be enormously difficult. Here's Part II of a set of indicators
that an opportunity might actually be a trap.
- Gratuitous Complexity as a Type III Error
- Some of the technological assets we build — whether hardware, software, or procedures —
are gratuitously complex. That's an error, but an error of a special kind: it can be the correct solution
to the wrong problem.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people 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.