Why You Should Encourage Employees to Break the Rules

There’s one rule to live by if you want to break out and succeed in any market: You must constantly break the rules.

Someone very familiar with this rule is the great Bruce Lee. He illustrates this much more profoundly than I ever could myself when he says, “If you always put limits on everything you do, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits, there are only plateaus.  And you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Sooner or later your business’s growth is going to flatten out — that’s just a fact of life. This is something MBA-types like to call the S-Curve.

As you approach this initial growth plateau you have two choices, innovate or die. If you can successfully innovate, you’ll enjoy another growth cycle. If you fail to do so, your business will continue to decline and competitors will steal your market share until you are extinct.


I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer the first option over the second any day of the week. And I’d like to bet almost every business owner would agree with my preference.

Then why do most businesses fail to innovate?

One major reason business fail to innovate is because they establish the habit of playing by the rules. Once the habit of “playing it safe” and “doing things by the book” has infiltrated a company’s culture, it’s usually too late.

“Typically, big companies are much more conservative than start-ups and won’t do anything that is untested or could risk future profits,” says George Deeb, managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures. “Innovation efforts really require a very different, more entrepreneurial risk-taking mindset.”

Entrepreneurial leaders understand the importance of building this mindset into the fabric of their company. They encourage their employees to question the traditional “rules” of the industry so  they can develop more efficient and effective ways of getting things done.

Brian Halligan of HubSpot agrees that a lot of company cultures are stuck in the past. He believes that, “their traditional best practices no longer work and are obviously not the best by today’s standards”.

Encouraging employees to break the rules can be a catalyst for reinventing your business and staying relevant.

The rules for breaking the rules

As you’d probably guess, there are no set rules for encouraging employees to break the rules. So, here’s how some of today’s most innovative companies are cultivating a culture of “rule-breaking”:

Carve out time for employees to work on their own passion projects

Google’s famous 20% time is a prime example.  Employees are encouraged to work on their own projects 20% of the time they are at work, as long as they’re in alignment with advancement of Google. Although this may seem counterintuitive, this policy has led to game-changing new products like Gmail and Adsense.

If this is seems like too daunting of a policy, you can get started by holding an internal “hackathon” day once every few months.

Encourage employees to share and discuss ideas in a forum or group

New platforms like Slack and Hipchat give employees an informal channel to share and build on ideas. Allowing conversations to take place outside of meetings and emails gives your company a place to have on-going creative collaboration.

Let everyone’s opinion be heard and withhold judgement

Most employees would be heavily reprimanded or even fired for questioning the CEO during a group meeting. However, forward-thinking companies have reversed this paradigm by allowing  any employee to challenge even the most senior executive. This can be seen in “open forum” meetings which are usually held one Friday each month.

The bottom line:

If you live by the established rules in your industry, the best you can ever hope to become is mediocre. But, if you want to truly break through and stay on top…then you better get to breaking the rules!