Understand the rules so you know how to break them. Everyone operates under a set of rules and expectations for themselves. If you plan on being more than mediocre you need to notice these rules and learn which ones to break. Creative and innovative solutions generally come because someone decided to break a hidden assumption.
This website you are looking at today resulted from my willingness to test the validity of rules I had. When I started over a year ago, I believed people probably wouldn’t want to listen to a seventeen year old kid for how to improve their life. In my own mind I had a hidden rule that said people would simply dismiss me for naivety.
But I decided to test that rule. I went up and started blogging. To my surprise, people were really encouraging. I have received hundreds of e-mails and comments from people who told me that they really valued the work I was doing here, for every piece of discouragement I received. The rule I had for myself wasn’t applicable in reality.
Where do your rules come from? Chances are they came from observing other people. It is easy to assume that if everybody acts in a particular way that there is a good reason for doing so. But often these people are just following each other, going with the flow without any consideration for where and why the flow is heading there.
Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher suggested that the reason a peacock has a magnificent tail isn’t because the tail helps the peacock survive, in fact, it often makes the bird a prime target for predators, but rather adaptions such as those are runaway fashions. Once a female peacock decides that big tails are attractive, big tails start to get selected. After a few generations females are forced to pick mates with big tails so that their own sons will have big tails and will be attractive.
Ideas and rules work exactly the same way. Often they catch on out of the urge to follow and conform to others, even if there is no rational reason for holding them up. In many cases, like the peacocks tail, these rules can even be costly, holding you to mediocrity or failure.
If you look at all creative geniuses, what things did they have in common? They all knew how to observe and break rules. Einstein broke a rule that said time and space were absolute, not relative qualities. If he had just accepted the conventional perception at the time, he never would have come up with his famous theory of relativity.
Rule breaking doesn’t need to be with grand esoteric rules, but with your daily life. I used to have a rule that I should always attend classes. Normally this is a good rule to have, but some of my classes I can get complete information from the textbook and downloadable notes, so going to that class is a waste of time aside for handing in assignments and doing tests.
When I first signed up for Toastmasters, I had to check off a box indicating I was 18 even though I didn’t turn the age of majority until I had finished my fifth speaking project. I’ve never been a fan of pointless bureaucracy, in either explicit or implicit rules. You have a lot more implicit rules for yourself then society has in legal form. Learning which of those rules to violate can result with innovation.
One of my favorite novels is Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game. The science fiction book follows the life of a young boy named Ender who has exceptional genius. Recruited into a special military training camp, the officials test the six year old’s ability to lead and strategize.
Ender plays various simulations and games, but the officials keep rigging the game to Ender’s disadvantage, giving him the worst team and numerous disadvantages, but Ender always ends up winning despite the odds. The key to Enders success, however, is that in every situation he learns how to break unofficial rules and come up with innovative solutions.
Starting to break rules comes first from opening your mind. Have a little less certainty in the restrictions you have upon yourself. You can’t expand with a rigid mind and creative solutions won’t come from ordinary perceptions.
Start writing out the assumptions you have for any area of your life. Start exploring all of your assumptions because you must first be aware of a rule in order to break it. Make those implicit assumptions explicit so you can begin to doubt them. Rules about how you need to behave, think and get results.
The world becomes however you define it. Create walls around yourself and you will end up feeling enclosed. Look at the walls around you and realize you put them there. Then decide which ones you will break through.