Breaking the Rules

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“I love to break rules!” So said Joe Miller, Chief Technology Officer at Corning, in his keynote address at the Industrial Research Institute’s Annual Meetinga few weeks ago. Describing Innovation at Corning, he went on to say, “There is no prescribed process for success.” I work continually with individuals of integrity, embedded in organizations, who realize they need to risk “breaking the rules” to be innovative or simply productive. But it is exceptional to hear a senior executive acknowledge it.

Breaking the rules may be difficult to justify in the moment but is essential to realize the promise of the future.

Despite all the processes and programs on the market to promote innovation, research confirms that “Champions (in innovation) are essentially political actors who are not prepared to abide by organizational rules.”

Leaders deviate from established norms or generally accepted standards in order to realize their mission and accomplish their goals. They break the rules – with integrity.

I am not, of course, referring to being deceitful or dishonest or doing anything illegal. Indeed, compliance in industry is essential for safety and environmental reasons as much as fiscal responsibility. All the same, conscientious individuals in today’s hard-driving high performance organizations know that in order to accomplish innovative breakthroughs they need to break the rules.

There are no rules for rule-breaking. But here are three suggestions to guide you, if you want to go where no one has gone before:

1. Take your time in responding to pressure from others to break the rules; confirm that you are connected to your own best sense of self when blazing a new trail.
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2. Whether simply speaking up in a meeting or a much more defining act of defiance, consider the risk you are willing to incur when taking a stand.

3. Strive for internal alignment; over time your decisions and actions should be consistent and congruent with your commitment to a given direction or deeper purpose.

Breaking the rules may be difficult to justify in the moment but is essential to realize the promise of the future. Do you agree?