How do you know which rules are worth breaking?

To be more innovative, how do you know which rules are worth breaking

Want to spark innovation? Kill some stupid rules.

That was one the messages I communicated to a worldwide audience last week while doing a webinar about why it’s ok to break rules if it makes things better. After the webinar portion of the program was done, we had a short Q&A session and one listener asked about knowing when a rule is ready to be broken; a common question that doesn’t have a clear approach.

Here are three approaches you can use to identify stupid rules worth breaking:

  1. Intuitively. As a rogue maverick I’ve gone about identifying and killing stupid rules instinctively, by immersing myself in the business and then identifying things and situations that make me think to myself, “This is insane! Why does it have to be this way?” Getting a feeling that there is a better way forward is a good indicator for me that I’m unto something. After that, I systematically go about eliminating those rules to see what happens; it is very much a process of trial and error.
  2. Systematically map it out and identify the CRAP. In combination with the previous point, and more interestingly, is to map out how everything fits together, the process, workflow, etc., to identify what I call “keystone rules”; CRAP, the real killer of innovation. These are the rules that if broken and/or eliminated will unleash tremendous amount of value, progress, productivity and innovation for employees, customers and partners.
  3. Collectively. Another approach I’ve taken, and it is the easiest of all, is to get people together in a room to flesh out the stupid rules with them. A good indicator that if breaking a specific rule is going to unleash a lot of value is if enough people in the room care about it.

This last approach is better if you are not a rogue maverick going at it alone. On that same point, I found a very interesting tool created by Lisa Bodell that you can use for yourself or with a group to systematically identify rules that are worth breaking.

In the video below she explains how to use the tool, which very much encapsulates the previous approaches:

As you can see, all it takes is one provocative question that you can ask anyone in your organization, “If you could get rid of any rule, either kill it or change it, what would you do, and why?”

Bottom line: To be more innovative, we have to stop doing things. In fact, we have to streamline or eliminate those barriers that are holding us back from being more innovative in the first place. We have to question the status-quo, understand that “what is” is holding us from back from “what could be”. Remember, subtract to innovate.