Break the Rules to Innovate


Rules. You need to start ‘breaking them’ and improvising to stay at the top of your game. Staying on top means constant innovation. Big or small, innovations are the competitive advantage in the digital economy.

There are essentially three categories of Rules to be aware of: i) Policies governing an activity, typically found in the workplace; ii) Habits, individual actions repeated on a regular basis; and, iii) Routines, typically combine multiple habits.

Rules govern your behaviors, which is why they’re so difficult to break. They’re your ‘comfort zone’; the anchor guiding you through the daily turmoil of life, professionally and personally. So why am I advocating that you break them? Rules confine your thinking through repeatable actions which don’t accommodate change. In the workplace, Rules are typically policies and routines. On a personal level, Rules are usually habits and routines. Whatever the case, Rules are obstacles to change and they need to be challenged all the time. As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.

The paradox, of course, is that you would be lost without Rules. Life is full of them and they are essential to maintaining your equilibrium. In the workplace, many Rules must be in place to manage your business efficiently. However, Rules constrain your thinking and sometimes they deceive you, since they ‘deflect’ your thinking from the digital pace of change impacting your business. This is particularly true when things are going well. You become less and less receptive to new ideas and more focused on preserving the status quo. Even when things are going badly, Rules offer a safe haven. It’s time to start breaking them if you wish keep pace with the velocity of change. However, breaking the Rules doesn’t mean there are no rules. Here’s what I mean.

When I was first inspired to pick up a saxophone and learn to play music, my teacher established very specific Rules for playing music. “Learn your scales. Use your metronome. Practice daily. Strengthen your embouchure.” It was a long list and crucial if I ever wanted to be a competent saxophone player.

It was the same when I joined my first concert band. The conductor would choose the tunes and we would practice them over and over again. Each song had specific Rules that were followed. Over time, I found I could play this music ‘mindlessly’; meaning I didn’t need to think very much,

just follow the Rules. But each time we played a concert the music was the same. After the second or third concert, it became pretty boring.

On a grander scale, the same dependency on Rules can be seen in most case studies written about the demise of major brands such as Blockbuster, Kodak or Pan Am. Their Rules prevented such firms from realizing risks they faced until it was much too late. Inspired leadership was missing, collaborative behavior was replaced with ‘CYA (cover your ass) Syndrome’ and innovation was all but ignored, or implemented too late.

Had these firms thought like jazz musicians, who knows what would have happened?

It was jazz music that ‘saved’ me when I first realized the Rules had to be broken to make jazz

refreshingly different each time you played the tune. Imagine doing that in the workplace!

Famed jazz musician, Herbie Hancock, shares a similar story about adapting to the unknown, during his early days as a young pianist in Miles Davis’ second great combo. Herbie remembers the time he played the wrong chord during one performance and was mortified. He quickly discovered that Miles embraced the error by taking the solo in a completely different direction and created a different interpretation of the song.

That story illustrates so well what can happen if you break a Rule. Greater innovation, effective collaboration and insightful leadership.

With today’s pace of digital change, that’s what you need!

Breaking the Rules doesn’t mean there are no Rules - you create the right ones! The right Rules are designed to foster collaboration, innovation and leadership practices that embrace constant change. Just like in jazz music. The same tune may be played differently each time - but there are still Rules.

Drop me a note to learn more.

Richard Kunz

JazzMind@T4G.com

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