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Break Three Rules to Innovate

By Wendy the Talking Penguin (Assistant to Jeffrey)*

If you are a good guy or gal, one who follows the rules and toes the line, you probably are not innovating very well. So, it's time to be less good, more naughty and break a few rules. Here are the three you should break.

Do Something Dishonest

Before you get started, do something dishonest. Lie to a colleague. Send an email full of false information. Call your spouse and say you've sold the house and bought a Ferrari with the cash. Introduce yourself to someone with a false name, false career and false place of origin. For example, "Hi, I am Wilburt van Huffentrumples from Munich. I'm an aerospace engineer."

Why would you want to do this? Because it boosts creativity, that's why. Recent research has shown that when people are encouraged to lie in one task, they are more creative in the next task. This is most likely because lying and creativity both involve breaking rules. Once you have demonstrated to yourself that you can break rules on one task, you are more likely to try breaking rules on the next task.

I've used this technique as a warm up exercise in my workshops with great success. I invite everyone to stand up and introduce themselves to others. However, they must lie about their name and profession. Moreover, they must ask each other questions about their backgrounds and continue to lie. After a recent workshop, one participant summed it up very well. "That warm up exercise was brilliant. After lying about who and what I am, I felt I could do anything!"

Break a Fundamental Rule When Vision Building

Now it is time to conceive your innovation. Do you build cars? Invent a car with Five wheels or just one wheel. Design a car without a steering wheel. Does your consultancy help clients? Then come up with a new service that harms clients. Does your department store chain sell the lowest priced products? Then come up with a product range that is ridiculously overpriced.

Or go one step further. Build a vision that breaks the law or defies common sense.

Do you work in a large organisation that stifles you with rules and regulations? Break as many of them as possible.

It does not matter which rule, or rules, you break. But the bigger and more fundamental the rule the better.

Just Do It

Okay, you've got your great, rule-breaking creative vision and you have established yourself as a liar. Now you are all set to break the third rule.

I expect your organisation is like most. When you have an idea, there are various approval processes you need to go through in order to start implementing your idea. These are important for vetting ideas and ensuring the company does not take unnecessary risks. These processes may involve committee reviews, management approval and possibly a legal check.

Ignore all of those ridiculous, time wasting processes and just get started on implementing your idea. Work out what you need to do and do it. Find short cuts. Build a prototype. Build the product. Make it happen.

You may not get to the full implementation stage this way. But once you have momentum and demonstrable evidence that your idea may work -- such as a working prototype, enthusiasm from customers about an idea or a compelling business case -- you will likely find that more and more people start supporting your project until it becomes an accepted and authorised project.

Sometimes, you may find that you can simply implement a crazy idea without ever getting approval. People will see you working on it and assume you have the necessary approvals. They will even support you.

You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you do not worry about tiresome approval processes.

I used to do this often in my employee days. When I was on contract to the European Commission, with the mandate to promote e-commerce to business, I launched Dr. Ecommerce -- a web portal where people could ask questions and get honest answers. I avoided the usual legal fluff and boring language of the Commission and responded with humour and warmth. It was a tremendous success. Yet, I never followed the usual procedures to do it. I just did it.

In spite of its success. It upset a number of people who did not like my approach. That it was so successful probably upset them even more! Which brings me to the issue of risk.


I won't lie to you now. Launching a project without proper permission has its risks. If it fails, you will take the blame and very likely be reprimanded for acting without authorisation. If it succeeds you are less likely to get in trouble, but you never know. Jealous colleagues or obsessive bureaucrats may still try to get you into trouble.

But, to be honest, if you work in an organisation with complex approval processes and middle managers who hate treat risk as if it were a highly contagious disease, taking the risk and starting a project without approval is probably the only way to get a truly innovative project off the ground. If nothing else, that will be a sexy bullet point in your CV.

A Wicked Path of Lies and Deceit

There you have it. If you can force yourself to lie, break fundamental rules and not follow office protocol, you will find that your ability to devise and launch innovative projects grows significantly. Moreover, you will probably also find that this route is more fun than business as usual. However, it is also a risky path to take. Lying can get you in trouble; having too many crazy ideas may result in your being branded a troublesome rebel who questions too many rules; and launching projects without approval can result in reprimand.

It's up to you. Would you prefer to be an innovator who might be out of a job soon or a secure but somewhat bored employee?


* Note: yes, as you have probably noticed, I lied about the author of this article! For what it is worth, Wendy, an intelligent penguin, is a character in my science fiction-humour novel, The Insane Journey.

Want to Discuss This With Me?

If so, get in touch. I'd love to chat about it with you!

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




My other web projects

My other web projects 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity - possibly useful things I have learned over the years. reflections on international living and travel. - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey